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Penn Law faculty and alumni participate in ACLU lawsuit to overturn Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage

July 09, 2013

Graduates and faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School played an instrumental role in a lawsuit filed today in federal District Court in Harrisburg seeking to overturn Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) , the American Civil Liberties Union, and volunteer counsel from the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, was brought on behalf of 23 Pennsylvanians who wish to marry or want the commonwealth to recognize their out-of-state marriages.

Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Len Rieser and Fernando Chang-Muy, both attorneys and lecturers at the Law School, who entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2004.

The counsel team includes Seth Kreimer, the Kenneth W. Gemmill Professor of Law, who specializes in constitutional law and litigation and serves on the Board of ACLU-PA.

Several of Kreimer’s former students are also part of the counsel team. They include Mary Catherine Roper L’93 (ACLU-PA) and Dylan Steinberg L’06, Rebecca Melley L’07, and John Stapleton L’02 (Hangley Aronchick). Mark Aronchick, also a member of the counsel team, is a lecturer at the Law School.

“We grads are all former students of Seth Kreimer,” Roper said, “and it has been a fantastic opportunity to work together and with him on the cutting-edge constitutional issues in this case.”

Kreimer added: “Working with  talented, committed, insightful former students and colleagues in the effort to forge a piece of constitutional history is one of the high points of my career.”

The suit, filed 13 days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, is intended to add Pennsylvania to the 13 other states and the District of Columbia that permit same-sex marriage.

Rieser, 64, and Chang-Muy, 58, have been a couple for 32 years. They adopted their daughter, Isabel, now 21, when she was 10 months old. “We did everything we possibly could when Isabel was growing up to ensure our well-being as a family,” Rieser said. “If we could have been married, it would have made a big difference in our lives. We know that if we could marry, it would mean a lot to our daughter.”

The lawsuit alleges that Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act and refusal to marry lesbian and gay couples or recognize their out-of-state marriages violates the fundamental right to marry as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The lawsuit comes in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor, which requires federal recognition for lesbian and gay couples who are married in their home states.