Hey Reddit,

Last Tuesday, the ACLU, ACLU of Pennsylvania, and volunteer lawyers from Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 23 Pennsylvanians seeking the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in Pennsylvania. This lawsuit comes in the wake of the ACLU's victory before the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor, which requires federal recognition for lesbian and gay couples who are married in their home states. AMA.

We'll begin answering questions at 2pm ET sharp.

Answering questions today are: • MollyTack-Hooper, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Pennsylvania • MaryCatherineRoper, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of Pennsylvania • LeslieCooper, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project • millerberry, Helena Miller and Dara Raspberry, plaintiffs

Proof it’s us: https://twitter.com/ACLU/status/355745878637690880

UPDATE (5:03pm ET): Thank you for all your questions! We're signing off for now, but you can learn more about the case here: https://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/whitewood-v-corbett.

Comments: 163 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

WhereIsEmozilla22 karma

Thank you for your work with this lawsuit.

I am a ACLU member, but what else can I do to help? Do you accept donations or volunteers?

Edit: I live in Pennsylvania.

MaryCatherineRoper7 karma

Awesome!!!! There are many ways to help. First, spread the word! Share links about the case and about events close to you that support the freedom to marry. And talk to your friends -- we know that personal conversations are what change people's minds. The ACLU of PA also has LOTS of uses for volunteers, email us at [email protected].
And, of course, all of this work takes money: http://www.aclupa.org/supportus/makeataxdeductiblegift.htm or https://www.aclu.org/donate/join-renew-give?oth_o4fpa_redditAMA. Thanks for your support!

WhereIsEmozilla3 karma

Thank you for your reply!

I'm saving my money for when I finally get to buy my friends wedding presents, so I'll definitely look into volunteering :)

MaryCatherineRoper1 karma

Terrific! Thank you!!

MollyTack-Hooper1 karma

You know a donation in your friends' name to the ACLU makes an excellent wedding gift... :)

millerberry13 karma

Hi, I'm Helena Miller, one of the plaintiffs in the case. I'm happy to answer any questions anyone has.

gijyun5 karma

I just want to commend your bravery and hope, so very sincerely, that you prevail.

millerberry1 karma


Thank you so much!

millerberry1 karma

Haha! Thanks!

MaryCatherineRoper9 karma

Hello, Reddit! I am Mary Catherine Roper, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. I am one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs in Whitewood v. Corbett, the brand new freedom to marry suit filed in federal court in Pennsylvania. I am excited to talk to you all!

beancounter28858 karma

Since the state isn't defending the law, do you think this will be an easy win? If no, why not?

MaryCatherineRoper12 karma

It isn't that the state isn't defending -- the AG said she wouldn't defend, but we don't know what the governor or the other defendants will say yet. We expect that someone will defend the suit. We (obviously) think we can win the case by showing the court that none of the reasons people give for discriminating against lesbian and gay couples hold water. But no sane litigator handicaps her own case. :-)

Enigmaticize6 karma

Thank you for what you're doing <3

Do you plan on starting a similar lawsuit state by state, assuming this works? I guess I'm hoping so.

Secondary question that you don't have to answer: Any plan to get Trans rights off the ground? I keep hearing about all the abuse my brothers and sisters go through.

LeslieCooper4 karma

We are strategically bringing cases that we hope will ultimately bring the freedom to marry to everyone.
Thanks for asking about trans rights. This is an important priority area for the ACLU and an issue we've been working on, along with our ally organizations, for a long time. We have brought successful cases on behalf of transgender people in the areas of workplace discrimination, access to transition-related medical care, the ability to change gender markers on identity documents, and the right of transgender students to be themselves at school, among others. And we are working at the state and federal level in support of laws that would ensure equal and fair treatment of transgender people. There is still so much more to be done but we are making tremendous progress.

Nick18334 karma

Did you initially get involved in the gay marriage topic because you actually support it, or is it because it gets such high publicity? Maybe it was some other random reason?

MollyTack-Hooper4 karma

We absolutely 100% believe in this. It’s a travesty that in 2013, loving, committed same-sex couples are treated as second-class citizens. PA’s DOMA law hurts our clients, and it demeans us as a society.

I would add that we’ve been working for LGBT rights and recognition of LGBT relationships for decades. This case is the logical next step in our work.

woofwoofdog994 karma

Considering our AG has declined to defend the law, what are Governor Corbett's options (assuming he still wishes for the law to be defended)? With the prop 8 ruling in mind, would other organizations not affiliated with the government still be permitted to intervene to defend the law if the state declined to do so?

MaryCatherineRoper0 karma

We aren't the ones to ask about who can defend -- other than, obviously, the governor. Maybe he should do an AMA about the case. :-) We're just excited to have this opportunity to put on our case.

_IR_Relevant3 karma

What's the next step in gay rights after DOMA? More state victories such as this? When will we 'win' legally? I understand that prejudice will take a long time to go away but will there be a point when the lgbt considers themselves viewed as equal under the law and how can we reach this point sooner?

LeslieCooper5 karma

The ACLU and our allies are pursuing all avenues to achieve the freedom to marry nationwide, including advocacy in state legislatures, state court litigation (such as the ACLU's current litigation in New Mexico and Illinois), and federal court litigation such as this case. But besides the fight for marriage, we still have a lot of work to do in many states on a wide range of issues affecting the LGBT community such as getting basic protections against workplace and housing discrimination (indeed, PA has no such protections); creating safe schools for LGBT youth; protecting parent-child relationships; and respecting the gender identity of transgender people.

fwenzel3 karma

In Pennsylvania, are you suing for the right for same-sex couples to marry "from scratch" or has the state moved towards marriage equality akin to California pre-Prop 8 and you are suing to make them go "all the way"?

MollyTack-Hooper7 karma

Pennsylvania law doesn’t provide for civil unions or domestic partnerships for same-sex partners. PA has a “mini-DOMA” law, passed in 1996, that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. This means that, currently, same-sex couples can’t get married in PA, and out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples aren’t recognized in PA. We want to change that so same-sex couples can get married in PA and have their marriages from elsewhere recognized in PA.

eatmorebeans2 karma

Do you think the recent Supreme Court rulings will have a major effect on the outcome of this lawsuit?

MollyTack-Hooper4 karma

Windsor will definitely be helpful. The Court’s opinion in US v. Windsor underscores the importance of marriage for same-sex couples and their families. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion acknowledges that DOMA harms same-sex couples and their families, denying them material resources and stigmatizing them.

moviemaniac2261 karma

Are there any differences between a case like this, which defines marriage by statute, and a potential case in a state that has a constitutional amendment defining marriage?

Edit: By the way, I live a few blocks down from your Pittsburgh branch. I was ecstatic to hear the ACLU was bringing the fight to this state. Thanks for all your hard work!

MollyTack-Hooper5 karma

The legal analysis is the same whether a state has a constitutional amendment banning marriage by same-sex couples or a statute that does the same thing. This is because denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry violates the U.S. Constitution, and the U.S. Constitution trumps both state law and state constitutions.

And thanks for your support!

LeslieCooper2 karma

Hi. I'm Leslie Cooper of the ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project. I look forward to talking with folks about our Pennsylvania marriage case.

mclovin932 karma

This is kind of unrelated. But I am a big fan of the ACLU. I would love to be more involved in the organization here in Wisconsin. I was wondering how can I either volunteer or get an internship? Or even what do I need to do to make working for the ACLU a career goal?

Thank you so much for this AMA.

aclu2 karma

Thanks for your support! If you or anyone else would like to learn more about volunteering for the ACLU, you can contact your local affiliate to see how you can help. Contact info for all affiliates here: http://www.aclu.org/affiliates

you_____________suck2 karma

This doesn't deal with PA specifically, but how do you think states that don't allow Same Sex Marriage will handle the Full Faith and Credit Clause?

MaryCatherineRoper3 karma

The Full Faith and Credit Clause allows states to make public policy exceptions. We think that courts will recognize the freedom to marry under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. See the claims in our complaint: http://www.aclupa.org/downloads/Whitewoodcomplaint.pdf

blarghargh22 karma

Do you think there's too much focus on gay marriage compared to other problems facing homosexuals and other gender and sexual minorities?

LeslieCooper1 karma

We think that the freedom to marry is one of many important issues facing the LGBT community. As we pursue marriage advocacy at the ACLU, we continue our work to achieve equality and fairness on all fronts, including establishing workplace protections for LGBT people (it's unconscionable that PA still lacks such laws); creating safe schools for LGBT youth; establishing parental rights for same-sex couples raising children; and respecting the gender identity of transgender people.

jdg992 karma

Aren't the states supposed to be sovereign from the federal government? Wouldn't this mean the Supreme court case shouldn't be beneficial because it is the right of the state to set its own laws as long as they do not deny constitutional rights?

MollyTack-Hooper3 karma

In US v. Windsor, the Supreme Court decided that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. The Court did not address the question of the constitutionality of states excluding same-sex couples from marriage. But states are bound by the U.S. Constitution just as the federal government is. And we think Pennsylvania’s DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution no less than the federal DOMA law does.

rockstarsball1 karma

do you think the recent ruling on DOMA is why the AG said she will not defend the law? or do you think it has to do with her support as well as the support of the people of Pennsylvania?

Also i want to add, I did support the ACLU but I cancelled my membership after i found out they don't care about the 2nd amendment, however you have my support for this instance and I thank you for helping make my state a more equal place for everyone.

MollyTack-Hooper0 karma

You’d have to ask the AG what her motivations were. I wouldn’t want to speculate, but you can listen to her beautiful statement here:


MollyTack-Hooper1 karma

Whoohoo! Super excited to be talking to you guys! My name's Molly Tack-Hooper, and I'm a staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. http://www.aclupa.org/home/staff/

I'm also one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs in Whitewood v. Corbett.

eatmorebeans1 karma

I replied to a comment with this question, but in case it doesn't get answered:
Do you think the recent Supreme Court rulings will have a major effect on the outcome of this lawsuit?

Thank you for all of the work you do!

MollyTack-Hooper1 karma

Yup, just saw that, and here's my answer again:

Windsor will definitely be helpful. The Court’s opinion in US v. Windsor underscores the importance of marriage for same-sex couples and their families. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion acknowledges that DOMA harms same-sex couples and their families, denying them material resources and stigmatizing them.


jjb6141 karma

Why did you think now was a good time to bring this suit in PA?

LeslieCooper0 karma

Same-sex couples in Pennsylvania have made the commitment that is at the heart of marriage and deserve the same protections that only marriage can bring. The public in Pennsylvania is ready to embrace marriage for lesbian and gay couples but the legislature does not reflect the public's views. And Pennsylvania is the only Northeast state without the freedom to marry or civil unions. It's time to bring the freedom to marry to the state where the Constitution was born. Edit: corrected a typo.

jjb6140 karma

Thanks! Did the fact that PA lacks a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage also play a role?

MollyTack-Hooper1 karma

That doesn’t change the legal analysis because denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry violates the U.S. Constitution, and the U.S. Constitution trumps both state law and the state Constitution.

Frajer1 karma

What do you think it will take for same sex marriage to become something that's commonplace?

LeslieCooper1 karma

The more people come to know that same-sex couples make the same commitments that married couples make, the more they agree that we should be afforded the same protections. The 11 families in the case in Pennsylvania illustrate the unfairness and serious harms that befall families when the government treats committed couples as legal strangers. Here is a link to the profiles of the Pennsylvania plaintiffs. http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/whitewood-v-corbett. And here is a link to the ACLU's "Out for Freedom" webpage, which explains our strategy to achieve the freedom to marry nationwide.


MollyTack-Hooper0 karma

Also, we made a video about one of our plaintiffs, Maureen Hennessey, and her wife, Mary Beth, who passed away before we filed suit. We think their story is very powerful. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Th01tQ3fG1s

ShanFish191 karma

What are the repercussions of the attorney general saying she won't uphold the same sex marriage ban?

MaryCatherineRoper6 karma

The AG refusing to support the law doesn't mean the suit won't go forward -- there are four other defendants and the law is still being enforced. But having the highest law enforcement official in the state say she believes the law is unconstitutional is HUGE for Pennsylvanians. And she said it beautifully. In announcing her position, AG Kane said that her position requires her both to defend the laws of Pennsylvania and to protect the constitutional rights of Pennsylvanians. And when there’s a conflict, she said, “I choose you.” As a Pennsylvanian, I am proud to have an AG who stands up for me!

MrRabbit1 karma

For anyone that thinks civil unions are the equivalent of marriages, could you guys sum up your feeling on why they are not?

Thank you for this AMA, and thank you for the work you are doing.

MollyTack-Hooper3 karma

For anyone that thinks civil unions are the equivalent of marriages, could you guys sum up your feeling on why they are not?

First, PA doesn’t have civil unions for same-sex couples. So PA same-sex couples are denied all of the legal protections available to married people under PA law. Also, even if PA did have civil unions that gave same-sex couples all the benefits and obligations of marriage, it is inexcusable – and unconstitutional – to tell same-sex couples that their relationships and families are second-class. It’s high time to stop denying same-sex couples this fundamental right.

MrRabbit1 karma

Thank you for your answer! I often speak to people who give the tired argument "okay to give 'them' civil unions but marriage should be kept as it blah blah." I'm glad to know that this is not an option as far as a solution is concerned for your team. Good luck in this fight.

MollyTack-Hooper2 karma


The_Waterbearer1 karma

Thank you for your efforts. Would you please come to Florida and help us as well?

MollyTack-Hooper1 karma

Sadly my jurisdiction is limited to Pennsylvania. ;-) But you should definitely reach out to the good folks at http://aclufl.org/ !

PresidentPlate1 karma

I don't have a question, I'd just like to thank you all for the work you're doing. I feel proud that my state (Minnesota) will be legalizing same-sex marriages on August 1st.

MaryCatherineRoper2 karma

Congrats to Minnesota!!!!!

MollyTack-Hooper0 karma

Totally! Yay.

Keldon8881 karma

I haven't been following this case, what kind of opposition are you facing here and what kind of opposition do you face in general with these kind of cases?

MaryCatherineRoper1 karma

We don’t know yet how the defendants in this case will attempt to justify Pennsylvania’s discrimination against lesbian and gay couples. The supporters of this kind of discrimination have offered different justification. We don’t think any of these arguments holds up. You can see what we have said about some of these arguments beginning at page 39 in our complaint: http://www.aclupa.org/downloads/Whitewoodcomplaint.pdf

FinickyPenance1 karma

What material benefits could be granted to same-sex couples in Pennsylvania by the state government should your lawsuit succeed? How significant are they in comparison to the federal benefits that same-sex couples receive now that DOMA is overturned?

MaryCatherineRoper1 karma

Pennsylvania, like the federal government, uses a person's marital status to determine literally hundreds of benefits and obligations. They range from tax exemptions to family law protections and even death benefits for surviving spouses.

MollyTack-Hooper1 karma

We highlighted just a handful of the legal protections for married couples in Pennsylvania on pages 35-37 of our complaint:


frotc9141 karma

Is there something in particular about PA's history with the laws that makes them susceptible to challenge post-DOMA, or are they just like any other state legally speaking?

MaryCatherineRoper0 karma

Pennsylvania’s mini-DOMA is very similar to the laws of other states. It was passed in 1996 with the same sorts of justifications that were given for the federal DOMA. We have a number of reasons for bringing suit in Pennsylvania, but one of the biggest reasons is that while the people of Pennsylvania support the freedom to marry, Pennsylvania’s legislature hasn’t caught up. It is time for the birthplace of the Constitution to live up to the promise of equal protection of the laws.

jjb6141 karma

Helena - Why did you decide to become a plaintiff in this case?

millerberry1 karma

Will be happy to answer in a minute. Just finishing feeding my baby!

millerberry5 karma

Our greatest personal interest in joining this lawsuit has to do with our daughter Zivah. She's only 6 weeks old now, but we hope that, through this court case, by the time she understands what marriage is and what family is, she'll only know our family to be the same as any other family in Pennsylvania, and her moms' marriage will be considered just like any other marriage.

In general, we joined because we considered it an honor and a privilege to get to be involved in something that could have historic repercussions regarding marriage equality. We are excited to do anything we can to help make all marriages between two loving adults be respected and honored.

T_Phoenix1 karma

Having lived in Philadelphia for a while, I genuinely wonder what you believe your odds of success are. I've seen some damn strange shit go down in terms of the Injustice System in that state. Honestly, what do you think? Long shot, or do you think you've got a good chance?

MollyTack-Hooper2 karma

Yes, I think we've got a good chance of winning the freedom to marry for our clients. We wouldn't have filed this suit if we didn't think we could win it.

krispykreme4ever0 karma

Helena: How did you and your wife meet?

millerberry0 karma

My wife and I met in Brooklyn through mutual friends. For our first date, I taught her how to surf at Rockaway Beach...and the rest is history.

mkkalinich0 karma

Helena: How supportive has your community/ family and friends been since your involvement as a plaintiff?

millerberry0 karma

Both my wife and I have been completely and wonderfully overwhelmed by the love and support we have received since the case was announced. Whether they have been sharing relevant articles on facebook, sending encouraging messages or calling us, we've received nothing but positive responses from friends, family, synagogue members, etc.

One interesting/related story: on Friday we received mail from Ohio, from a name we'd never heard of before. A bit nervous, we opened the envelope to find a letter from our neighbor's father. He first congratulated us on the birth of our daughter, then explained that he is a conservative, and is very much in support of marriage equality. He even went through the trouble of including a clipping from his local paper detailing the case. Receiving that letter, and enjoying his message, was definitely one of the highlights of our last week.

The_Iceman22880 karma

You guys do great work and I'm behind you every step of the way but there's something I've been meaning to ask about the current direction of achieving marriage equality in the US.

Is the state-by-state way of doing things going to be effective in the long term? Is it possible to achieve marriage equality this way or should we focus on something on a federal level?

LeslieCooper1 karma

Thanks so much for your support! We are pursuing all paths to achieving the freedom to marry, including state-level work (legislation, ballot measures, and state-court litigation) and federal litigation like the Pennsylvania case. Here's a link to the ACLU's "Out for Freedom" page, which discusses our multi-prong strategy. http://www.aclu.org/out-freedom. Ultimately, we expect that, as with other civil rights issues, some states will not end the exclusion from marriage until the Supreme Court steps in. We think it's important to get as many freedom-to-marry states as possible on the map before the issue is before the Supreme Court.

fonkychire0 karma

realistically, do you see federal recognition of same-sex marriage happening in the near future? if not, why and when do you think it will happen? i know it's hard to predict such things but as a college student interested in pursuing a law degree one day, i'm curious what you all have to say.

MaryCatherineRoper0 karma

The Supreme Court's ruling in U.S. v. Windsor means that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages that the states recognize. But that case did not answer the question whether the constitution requires all states to allow and recognize marriages between same-sex couples. That is the question that the ACLU hopes to answer with this suit. But the ACLU is pursuing all paths to achieving the freedom to marry, including state-level work (legislation, ballot measures, and state-court litigation) and other federal litigation like the Pennsylvania case. Here's a link to the ACLU's "Out for Freedom" page, which discusses our multi-prong strategy. http://www.aclu.org/out-freedom. As Leslie said earlier, Ultimately, we expect that, as with other civil rights issues, some states will not end the exclusion from marriage until the Supreme Court steps in. We think it's important to get as many freedom-to-marry states as possible on the map before the issue is before the Supreme Court.

Zmeiler0 karma

I live in Pennsylvania and I support this 100%!! I have 2 aunts who are gay, and it makes me angry that they don't have the same rights as straight couples. Please fight as hard as you can.

And thank you!

MaryCatherineRoper-1 karma

Thank you for your support!!! Spread the word!!

benduffy0 karma

Assuming whomever defends it makes full use of the appeals process but the rulings are in your favor, what is the path taken through the courts (i.e. which courts will hear it between now and when the fight is over), and how long can we expect this case to take at the various steps, as well as an estimate of when we will hear the final ruling?

I know it's tough to say exactly, but just a rough estimate would suffice.

MollyTack-Hooper1 karma

We filed our suit in federal court in Harrisburg (the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania). No matter who wins at the trial court, we expect an appeal. The case will then go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. From there, the parties could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, but the Supreme Court doesn’t have to grant review and in fact, grants review in a very small percentage of cases.

All told, we expect this case to be around for years. We expect this case to go to trial, which means it will probably be in the district court for at least a year before the appeal to the Third Circuit. It's really tough to predict how long the appeals process would take.

AhhhBROTHERS0 karma

Good luck, we recently won the battle in MN and it wouldn't have happened without a lot of hard work from a lot of good people.

MollyTack-Hooper0 karma

Thanks! And congrats. Very excited for the people of Minnesota.

ShanFish190 karma

Helena and Dara: I think what you are doing is courageous and awesome. two questions 1) Did you ever think that you'd be involved in such a high profile legal case? 2) Do you ever feel frustrated/ overwhelmed by the fact that you (and all other committed same sex couples in this state and many others) are having to fight so hard for the freedom to marry/ right to have your marriage recognized in Pennsylvania?

millerberry0 karma

We never thought we would be involved in such a high-profile legal case. We thought we would do our part on smaller levels by coming out in every environment, since we know how powerful that is, and supporting different, smaller efforts. But we were very excited to have the opportunity to be involved in something so big.

We certainly feel annoyed that we have to go through extra effort, and it's sometimes frightening that if we don't go through that special effort that we could lose our ability to make medical decisions for one another or lose legal protections as parents. But we actually feel really energized right now thanks to being a part of this case.

Edit: Thanks so much for your support!


Why only PA?

LeslieCooper2 karma

Not only PA. We have cases pending in state courts in New Mexico and Illinois. We are working in state legislatures in various states. And in addition to the PA federal case, we will be pursuing the freedom to marry in federal court in North Carolina and Virginia shortly. We are pursuing all avenues to achieve the freedom to marry. Here's a link to the ACLU's "Out for Freedom" page, which discusses our strategy. http://www.aclu.org/out-freedom.

fingerpies0 karma

I don't really have a real question, but I just wanted to let you guys know you have all of my support. I just graduated with my A.A. in paralegal studies and my dream job is to work for the ACLU on issues just like this one. Thank you for trying to change my home state!

MaryCatherineRoper0 karma

Congrats to you! I hope you get your dream job, but in the meantime did you know that nonprofits are always grateful for skilled volunteers like paralegals. :-) Orgs like the ACLU run on committed volunteers!

vocaliser-3 karma

The state AG has a legal duty to enforce state law. She should resign rather than put her personal politics above the law. (I guess that's not a question per se, sorry.)

MollyTack-Hooper0 karma

I’m not an expert on the AG’s duties under PA law but I know her duties include upholding the Constitution. Also, she is in good company. U.S. Attorney General Holder declined to defend the federal DOMA law, and in California, AG Jerry Brown and his successor Kamala Harris both refused to defend the constitutionality of Prop 8.

window5-9 karma

Do children have the right to be adopted into a family which is headed by a married man and woman?

LeslieCooper5 karma

All children need and deserve loving, stable families, which can come in many forms, including same-sex parent families. This is recognized by every major professional group dedicated to children's health and welfare, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the Child Welfare League of America. And it is confirmed by more than three decades of scientific research showing that children raised by lesbian and gay couples fare no differently than those raised by heterosexual couples. All children deserve to have their families respected and protected by the law.