Philadelphia Bar Association Honors Mark Aronchick

The Philadelphia Bar Association honored Mark Aronchick, Esq., with the PNC Achievement Award at the Association’s annual luncheon on December 9 at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Philadelphia.

DANDRIDGE Mark Aronchick honored

PNC Wealth Management, John Conaway (left), and Abe Reich, Esq., who chaired the PNC Achievement Award committee (right), present the award to Mark Aronchick. Photo: Bonnie Squires.

The Award honors “significant accomplishments in improving the administration of justice.” Aronchick was cited for his work defending same-sex marriage with the successful Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case in Pennsylvania, as well as for his service to the city of Philadelphia years ago as the city solicitor.

In 1996, Aronchick became the first attorney to simultaneously serve as president of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and vice chancellor the Philadelphia Bar Association. In 1998, he became the youngest city solicitor in Philadelphia’s history.

A partner at Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, Aronchick was instrumental in this year’s Whitewood lawsuit, which successfully overturned Pennsylvania’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Aronchick’s law partner, Daniel Segal, praised his commitment to equality when nominating him:

Mark has an unstinting commitment to provide all citizens, poor and rich, black and white, gay and straight with a fair, equal and honest system of justice. Whether in litigating Whitewood, promoting the Bar Foundation, teaching Penn law students, or serving on the Judicial Conduct Board, this commitment has been and remains the focus of his intense devotion.

Modern Marriage: DOMA Elimination Raises Many Questions


Daylin Leach officiates the marriage between Sarah and Marcia Martinez-Helfman at the Talamore Golf Club in Ambler, Pennsylvania.

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

The elimination of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the parallel provision on the Marriage Law in Pennsylvania expand gay rights and bestow important benefits on GLBTQ communities. These include the ceremonial and symbolic element of traditional marriage, and the reduction or elimination of economic discrimination in favor of traditional marriage that continues to exist in some public laws and programs.  

But in addition, this line of cases has broadened the circumstances in which discrimination will be inferred in facially “neutral” governmental action, and has broadened the application of the doctrine of equal protection of the laws, all to the good.  

More after the jump.
Family law, the body of common law principles and statutes controlling marriage, adoption, divorce, support and custody issues, has been a subject of state law. Moreover, the states have been permitted to experiment and apply highly individual approaches in this area.

Until late in the last century, battles over divorce laws arose primarily in state legislatures. For decades, trips to Reno or Mexico had been common parts of a divorce “package.” These days, lawyers fight cases over the question of jurisdiction: If one of two married people travels to a place far from the marital home, is the divorce decree obtained there really binding?

The questions of how marriages formed, on the other hand, had received much less attention. Now with the advent of gay marriage, inevitable adjustments will be made in related norms and practices. Any assumptions about relationships will be revisited.

The traditional polite seating at the meal table — boy, girl, boy, girl — is surely adaptable. Other institutions will take longer to adapt.

As a formal matter, the two paths to marriage — a civil or a religious ceremony — will remain unchanged. Nonetheless, organized religions will face pressure to decide whether they too will broaden their viewpoint and grant sacramental support to gay marriage.

This revolution is surely going to pour over into heterosexual families and relationships. When a marriage — or union — breaks up, many assumptions about custody and support will no longer seem applicable.

Who is responsible for bringing up a baby? The traditional assumption that there will be a breadwinner, and that this role will survive separation and divorce, will seem antiquated. Why should the breadwinner, or the homemaker before divorce continue in that role afterward? If those roles are purely personal elections, need they be permanently binding?  

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.  

Court Cases in Pennsylvania: Good vs. Evil

— Crossposted from Democratic Convention Watch

There were two interesting happenings in the courts of Pennsylvania this week. Both of them relate directly to Governor Tom Corbett, and show him to be the kind of person dedicated to personal gain over human rights.

Certainly you remember the case of Jerry Sandusky, the coach who was abusing young boys for years and is now in prison for life. When pedophiles are brought to light, it is the obligation of those in charge to do something to prevent further abuse. Tom Corbett, as attorney general, chose not to, and instead to take $640,000 from Sandusky for his gubernatorial campaign coffers. He is not being charged, yet, but the three men who oversaw Jerry Sandusky are now going to trial. Former Penn State president Graham Spanier, Former Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz, and Former Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley, are charged with knowing about Sandusky's abuse, not reporting it to the police, and then lying about it to the Grand Jury. Specifically: perjury, obstruction, endangering the welfare of children, failure to properly report suspected abuse and conspiracy.

More after the jump.

My guess is that Corbett's complicity will come up at some point. And probably someone will end up mentioning that he is up there with Bob McDonnell for turning the governor's mansion into a pay-to-play site. Read this

So, we have a bunch of powerful men putting their own institutions (Penn State and the Pennsylvania Legal System) ahead of the protection of young boys.

In another court case, the Pennsylvania Board of Health is suing the Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes. Hanes is the man in charge of issuing  marriage licenses. In light of the recent Supreme Court decision, he started issuing marriage licenses to gay couples: 34 of them so far. 

I know, you don't understand what the Register of Wills and the Health Department have to do with marriage licenses. This is Pennsylvania, and we are weird. For example, my mailing address has a zip code that includes part of 3 counties, and is different from my actual township. If I had a landline, it would be in yet another town. In addition, Pennsylvania is one of the only states in the country that does not have a gay marriage or civil union law, and also not a constitutional ban on marriage equality. Marriage licenses come from the Register of Wills, which is a county position, and the State Health  Department oversees, among other things, marriage and death certificates. 

The Attorney General's office, headed by Kathleen Kane, is refusing to defend the state against the ACLU suit related to the ban on  gay marriage. She won't touch this, either. Under Pa. law,  the Health Department is allowed to sue in Commonwealth Court, because marriage licenses are a civil, not a criminal, matter. That's why it is a suit in lieu of a criminal action. 

Further, the Health Department is an arm of the Executive Branch, and Corbett wants to defend against both the ACLU suit, and anything that would allow gay people to marry. Again, he is against civil rights and human rights, and basic moral decency. 

On the up side, Jerry Sandusky is in jail, where he can't hurt any more boys, and he will never get out. Spanier, Schultz and Curley will likely join him there in a year or two. It is not out of the realm that Corbett will end up as an indicted co-conspirator one of these days. In the end, the Pa. DOMA law will be struck down, and the Montco marriage licenses will stand, and will end up issued in all the other counties, too. 

DOMA, Proposition 8 Decisions and What Makes Our Nation Great

— by Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 were met with celebration by many who have supported the right of people of the same sex to marry. Others have felt that such rights should not be afforded because of earnestly held religious beliefs. There are differing opinions as to how Jews should respond to this issue, although there is consensus that Judaism teaches respect for others and that we abhor discrimination against individuals.

More after the jump.
We live in a democratic society, in which we are all free to express our opinions about social issues and to advocate vigorously for those opinions. That is part of what makes our nation great. We have a system of laws that protects our rights to speech, religion — and to petition our government to redress grievances as the plaintiffs in the marriage cases did today. No one group and no religion has the right to dictate its beliefs to the entire body politic. In the end, our democratic process determines matters such as this, and that process has spoken. Many in our community are celebrating this decision. Others do not join in that celebration. Together, we must continue in honest dialogue, learning from one another, and striving for what is best for our community and our nation.

It’s Time for Pennsylvania to Pass Marriage Equality Legislation


An LGBT flag in Philadelphia

— by State Senator Daylin Leach

Yesterday, the Supreme Court spoke on the issue of marriage equality. And the sound you heard is the arc of history bending toward justice. The court did two things:

  • They struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which means that gay and lesbian couples who are legally married in any state, are now fully and completely married in the eyes of the federal government — they will now receive all rights and benefits of marriage — and the obscene discrimination that they faced in federal law prior to today is over.
  • The court also dismissed the appeal of a lower court’s decision striking down Proposition 8 in California. This means that the lower court’s ruling stands, and that gay and lesbian couples in California are now legally free to marry the person they love, and 38 million Californians now live under equality.

Continued after the jump.
These two decisions bring our nation into line with our historic values. Discrimination and bigotry are simply not in America’s DNA. The Court’s decision in the DOMA case was particularly poignant and insightful, saying that laws that treat gay and straight people differently have “no legitimate purpose.”

This language, and these decisions make it clear that legal discrimination against gay people is on its way to the ash-heap of history. The legislature and governor of Pennsylvania now have a crucial decision to make. Do we now embrace equality and, as Hubert Humphrey said, “walk into the bright sunshine of human rights?” Or do we join states like Mississippi and Alabama as dead-enders, fighting a sad and futile battle for prejudice and fear?

I know where I stand. And the polls show where the people of Pennsylvania stand. It’s time for our government to do right by all of the people of our great Commonwealth, and pass marriage equality and anti-discrimination legislation this year.

PA Senator Casey: I Can No Longer Deny Same-Sex Couples Equality


Graph by Dylan Matthews, The Washington Post

— Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

When the Respect for Marriage Act (the legislation that repeals the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]) was first introduced and debated in the Senate in 2011, I began to focus on the issue of same-sex marriage much more intensely than I had before. As a candidate for the Senate in 2006 and 2012, and as a Senator, I have supported civil unions. I also supported strongly the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), was a leading co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and had stated publicly that I opposed efforts to enact constitutional prohibitions on same-sex marriage. In the six years I have been in the Senate, there have not been any floor votes to repeal DOMA or to legalize same-sex marriage. Both questions have now been argued before the Supreme Court and are being debated across our country. After much deliberation and after reviewing the legal, public policy, and civil rights questions presented, I support marriage equality for same-sex couples and believe that DOMA should be repealed.

Continued after the jump.
As part of my consideration of these issues, I read letters written to me by LGBT Pennsylvanians and their families. These letters included deeply personal statements from people across our Commonwealth and the questions they posed challenged me directly. These stories had a substantial impact on my position on this issue. If two people of the same sex fall in love and want to marry, why would our government stand in their way? At a time when many Americans lament a lack of commitment in our society between married men and women, why would we want less commitment and fewer strong marriages? If two people of the same sex want to raise children, why would our government prevent them from doing so, especially when so many children have only one parent, or none at all? A letter I received from a woman in Southeastern Pennsylvania was particularly compelling:

My partner and I are both college educated. I am a stay-at-home mom and part-time kindergarten assistant teacher. I left a full-time position […] when my partner gave birth to our twins to be a stay-at-home mom. We went through the process of second parent adoption and are both legal parents to our kids. My partner and I have been in a committed relationship for 18 years. We attend church every Sunday and we own a house, cars, and are truly blessed by our [two children]. As I do a rough calculation and add up the additional money we have paid in taxes compared to a financially similar heterosexual married couple over the last ten years, that amount approaches $100,000! $100,000 dollars would go a long way towards future retirement or in the college education of my kids. More important than the financial inequality to me is the message I send to my kids. My kids have two proud and loving parents who are honest [and] work hard. I want my kids to know they are equal and our family is equal […] I just want my family to be treated equally and with respect by my state and federal government.

As a Senator and as a citizen, I can no longer in good conscience take a position that denies her and her family the full measure of equality and respect.

I understand that many Americans of good will have strong feelings on both sides of this issue. I believe elected public officials have an abiding obligation to refrain from demonizing and dividing people for partisan or political gain. Rather, Democrats and Republicans should come together and find areas of agreement to do what’s best for the country, including lesbian and gay Americans.

First Circuit Court Finds Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional

Plaintiffs Nancy Gill and Marcelle Letourneau— by Adam Bonin

A unanimous three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that there is no justification for the Defense of Marriage Act to disallow recognition to a same-sex couple legally married under Massachusetts law. The court’s reasoning follows the arguments advanced in JSPAN’s amicus curiae brief. Primary credit for the content of our brief goes to Philadelphia Jewish Voice Board Member Prof. Perry Dane of Rutgers Law School, an active member of the JSPAN Church-State Policy Center. Our strongest congratulations to Perry!

The court applied “intensified scrutiny” to DOMA’s treatment of minorities that are subject to discrepant treatment generally. Finding no federal interest that adequately justifies the statute, the court ruled that DOMA denies equal protection to gays and must be struck down.

Links

Reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network.

Reform Movement Welcomes Court Striking Down Prop. 8

— Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Jonathan Stein, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis

We commend the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. While the decision is narrow, it is nonetheless an important step forward in the achievement of marriage equality. As the purveyor of civil marriage, government should embrace an inclusive definition of marriage that establishes equality for all couples, regardless of the sex of the people involved.

Our holy texts teach us that all people are created b’tselem Elohim (in the Divine image) (Gen. 1:27), and as such are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. We are inspired by our faith and history to stand up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans, for we have known the experience of being victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We feel a keen empathy for those who can still be victimized, deprived of opportunities, including the opportunity to marry, because of their identity.

We welcome today’s ruling and move forward with renewed resolve as we work toward the day when all Americans will be able to marry the person that they love.