Pennyslvania DOMA Hero Honored: Mark Aronchick’s Journey


Mark Aronchick and Congressman Chaka Fattah.

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

The local attorney and advocate for equality, Mark A. Aronchick, received the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) Social Justice Award, at a reception last month.

Aronchick is the lead counsel, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in the challenge to the Pennsylvania version of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), being brought by a number of same sex couples seeking the right to marry in Pennsylvania.

This challenge is the most important civil rights case in Pennsylvania in years. As the case progresses through the lower courts and perhaps up to the Supreme Court, it could be a very suitable capstone to Aronchick’s long and illustrious public career.

More after the jump.
Through its Church-State Committee, JSPAN takes an active, lively interest in freedom of religion, and other First Amendment cases. This non-profit agency intervenes in key cases, petitions the federal and state executive branches, and educates its members and the public regarding religious and civil rights issues.

DOMA is a statute that the federal government, Pennsylvania and a handful of other states adopted, defining marriage as exclusively a union between a man and a woman.

The United States Supreme Court ruled a key provision of the federal statute unconstitutional earlier this year, reasoning that the law addresses no apparent federal interest, except to express animus against the gay community.


Mark Aronchick and Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach.

The LGBT movement exulted: The federal ruling points the way to attack the Pennsylvania DOMA, but getting a state law overturned is never an easy case.

The DOMA case will turn on constitutional issues, with which Aronchick has extensive experience: Prior important constitutional level cases he handled include litigation concerning voting rights, electronic voting machines, and policies and practices of the Philadelphia Police Department.

As the new DOMA case develops, a growing public recognition of its importance and of Aronchick’s key role is expected.

After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School in 1974 with high honors, Aronchick became active in local democratic politics. After Bill Green was elected mayor of Philadelphia, Aronchick became the youngest person to serve as Philadelphia city solicitor.

He has also filled key positions in the organized bar, including president of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and treasurer and chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Aronchick served as a member of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and Chair of the City of Philadelphia Board of Ethics. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board, a key advisory board to the state supreme court, for four years.

Regarding this virtually continuous stream of often difficult, very public volunteer positions, Aronchick states that he is not special, and that a number of other lawyers could have filled his roles, but his argument in this instance is not convincing.


Dan and Sheila Segal, and Mark and Judith Aronchick.

Aronchick views the fight to allow same-sex marriage in the DOMA case as incredibly important, and a natural next battle following in the larger Jewish tradition, of supporting greater equality for all people.

He is optimistic about the future of the Jewish community, observing that young people today approach public service differently than earlier generations, but continue to offer strong leadership skills.

Aronchick is married to Dr. Judith Aronchick, a professor of radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Their daughter, Sara Aronchick Solow, graduated from Yale Law School, and currently is clerking for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Mark and Judith’s son Jonathan is a student at Georgetown Law School, having previously served on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The Aronchicks’s five month old grandson, Ethan Solow, is reported to constitute a serious distraction from law, but one that Mark is up to handling.  

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