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Monday May 4th, 2015 1:03AM

Defense of Penn. gay marriage ban dropped

By The Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- It came just in time for wedding season.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of same-sex couples who live in Pennsylvania are rushing to get marriage licenses or celebrate the sudden recognition of their out-of-state marriages in their home state.

The party planning and vow taking is in full swing now that Gov. Tom Corbett ended his fight Wednesday to stop same-sex marriage in the state, allowing a growing number of couples to proceed with their wedding plans with greater peace of mind. Pennsylvania is now the 19th state to recognize same-sex marriages and the last northeastern U.S. state to do so. Washington, D.C., also permits it.

Partners of nearly 24 years, Stephen Miller and Jim Devaty of suburban Pittsburgh plan to get married next week. They applied for their license online Tuesday after U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III struck down the law in a strongly worded opinion.

"I'm in shock," Miller said Wednesday. "In a way, I never thought I'd live to see the day when Jim and I could get married."

They'll crack open a bottle of champagne they've been saving and plan a gathering for family and friends. They're not sure where yet, but their son, 6-year-old Aiden, suggested the backyard.

Shari Gross of Erie said she and Judy Zurinski, her partner of almost six years, are legally married in New York. But their marriage in New York only involved a few friends, and they promised everyone else a big party once their home state recognized their union.

"We promised everybody that when we had equality we were going to have a party," said Gross, 51. "So we're going to have a party."

At least one couple got married.

On Wednesday, about an hour before Corbett revealed his decision, Pamela VanHaitsma and Jess Garrity of Pittsburgh were married in front of a district judge, said their lawyer, Sam Hens-Greco.

Pennsylvania requires a three-day waiting period before a couple with a marriage license can wed, but a county judge agreed to waive it, he said.

For many of the couples, it's a matter of love and dignity. For Gross, it also is a matter of the health insurance she lost with her job in January. But Zurinski's employer recognized their New York marriage as legal and extended spousal benefits.

Corbett, a Catholic and a Republican, went against his personal beliefs in choosing not to appeal Jones' decision.

On one hand, he said his lawyers had advised him "the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal." On the other hand, he said his duties as governor require him to follow the law.

It has been a sensitive issue for Corbett, a low-profile former state attorney general who is up for re-election and facing poor public approval ratings. He took heat in October for comparing marriages of same-sex couples to the marriage of a brother and sister, but in recent months, he has moved to the political center and away from staunchly conservative positions on several hot-button issues.

The governor's decision means that same-sex marriage will remain legal in Pennsylvania, without the threat that a higher court will reinstate the ban. Lawyers for the plaintiffs - one widow, 11 couples and one couple's teenage daughters - said another party has never been allowed to appeal in the state's place.
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