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Pennsylvania governor won't challenge overturning of same-sex marriage ban

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 6:33 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A conservative leader accuses Gov. Tom Corbett of "abandoning marriage"
  • Corbett says he believes marriage should be between one man, one woman
  • Still, he decides against fighting a decision striking state's same-sex marriage ban
  • "The case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal," Corbett says

(CNN) -- Going against his personal views, Pennsylvania's governor won't challenge a federal judge's ruling striking his state's same-sex marriage ban, paving the way for gay and lesbian couples to marry there.

Gov. Tom Corbett announced his decision in a statement Wednesday, a day after U.S. District Judge John E. Jones became the latest federal judge to declare a state's restriction of marriage to one man and one woman to be unconstitutional. Pennsylvania officials will "follow ... the provisions of Judge Jones' order with respect for all parties," the governor said.

State Attorney General Kathleen Kane has also announced that she will not defend Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban because of what she believes is "the unconstitutionality of this law."

That means that while other entities could file appeals of their own, they are unlikely to have legal standing and therefore affect what happens in Pennsylvania.

Rachael Beierle, left, and Boise City Council President Maryanne Jordan, center, laugh at a joke during Amber Beierle's wedding vows Wednesday, October 15, at City Hall in Boise, Idaho. With Boise Mayor Dave Bieter out of town, Jordan officiated the wedding as acting mayor. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court found that same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and neighboring Nevada were unconstitutional. Rachael Beierle, left, and Boise City Council President Maryanne Jordan, center, laugh at a joke during Amber Beierle's wedding vows Wednesday, October 15, at City Hall in Boise, Idaho. With Boise Mayor Dave Bieter out of town, Jordan officiated the wedding as acting mayor. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court found that same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and neighboring Nevada were unconstitutional.
Same-sex marriage in the U.S.
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Corbett -- a Republican who just won his party's primary in pursuit of a re-election bid and, as he points out, a Roman Catholic -- said in his statement Wednesday that he still personally believes "that marriage is between one man and one woman." His decision not to stand by that belief in court comes after "a judgment as to the likelihood of a successful appeal."

"Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal," Corbett said. "Therefore, after review of the opinion and on the advice of my Commonwealth legal team, I have decided not appeal."

State-by-state: Developments on same-sex marriage

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, slammed Corbett for opting "to defend himself and his political aspirations" rather than the traditional definition of marriage.

"Governor Corbett is abandoning marriage with this choice," Brown said on his organization's blog. "He is also turning his back on the people of Pennsylvania and selling out his principles precisely when it is most necessary that he stand by them!"

Yet others applauded Corbett's decision. Those supportive voices include Jeff Cook-McCormac, a senior adviser with the American Unity Fund, a PAC dedicated to making a conservative case for "the cause of freedom for gay and lesbian Americans."

Cook-McCormac said Corbett "did the right thing today, preventing a prolonged, divisive debate and providing much needed certainty for loving Pennsylvania families."

"Like Republican Governors Christie, Martinez and Sandoval before him, Governor Corbett recognizes there are thoughtful people with sincerely held beliefs on both sides of this issue and his decision allows his state to move forward and focus on the priorities citizens are concerned most about," Cook-McCormac added.

Jones' decision was the latest in a wave of rulings against state prohibitions on same-sex marriage in the 11 months since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

That 5-4 opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, did not directly affect individual states' laws restricting marriage based on sexual orientation. But many federal judges have cited his decision on United States v. Windsor in their judgments, as well as the argument that same-sex marriage bans violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Most of these court rulings have been stayed -- meaning that, for now, marriage prohibitions remain in place -- until appeals courts, and possibly the Supreme Court, weigh in. Already, judges in the 10th Circuit out of Denver and 4th Circuit out of Richmond, Virginia, have heard appeals.

All this movement in legal circles comes amid a significant shift in public opinion in recent years. Several states moved to allow gay and lesbian marriages last year on their own volition.

A Gallup survey released Wednesday showed that 55% of respondents support laws granting same-sex couples equal rights to traditional marriages, the highest such number since Gallup began polling on this question in 1996.

Support for same-sex marriage increases

Federal judge strikes down Oregon's ban

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