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Kane says state's ban on gay marriage 'wholly unconstitutional'

Kane says she won't defend the state's ban on gay marriage from a federal lawsuit.

IT WAS A momentous announcement about doing nothing, and it brought the crowd at the National Constitution Center to its feet yesterday, cheering its significance and wiping away tears.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane quoted Robert F. Kennedy, hoping her decision to not defend the state's gay-marriage ban from a federal lawsuit would ripple across the commonwealth and knock down walls of inequality.

"I know that in this state, there are people who will not support this decision," Kane said to the crowd during the afternoon news conference. "I'm asking them to support the Constitution."

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Gov. Tom Corbett and other public officials, including Kane, on behalf of 23 residents. The plaintiffs include 10 couples, a widow and two minor children, fighting for the right to marry here, to have their out-of-state marriages recognized here and for the same equal protections granted to straight married couples.

Kane said she had not spoken to Corbett about her decision, but reiterated several times that it was neither political nor personal. She said she reviewed the state's law and found it to be "wholly unconstitutional."

"First we thought that racial discrimination was OK and then we realized, no it's not OK. Gender discrimination was OK 90 years ago and now we know that's not OK," she said after the news conference. "If we have evolved as a society with inequality and discrimination, this is just another wave toward making sure everyone is equal."

Corbett's office did not return requests for comment yesterday, but Pennsylvania General Counsel James Schultz, whose office could now be responsible for representing the governor, was taken aback by Kane's stance.

"We are surprised that the attorney general, contrary to her constitutional duty under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, has decided not to defend a Pennsylvania statute lawfully enacted by the General Assembly, merely because of her personal beliefs," Schultz said in a statement.

Pennsylvania Republicans also blasted Kane's decisions on the same grounds.

"Pennsylvanians are left with the question, if Kathleen Kane's political beliefs are the standard for law enforcement, what law will she ignore next?," Rob Gleason, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

Center City lawyer Mark Aronchick, co-lead counsel with the ACLU on the lawsuit, called Kane's decision "historic."

"I've never seen a public official take a more principled, ethical, courageous, forthright and clear stance than Attorney General Kane took today," he said.

Those in the gay and lesbian community who attended the news conference said there's been little to cheer about in Pennsylvania before yesterday.

"It's a good day indeed," said Heshie Zinman of the LGBT Elder Initiative. "She did not mince words."

Kane said her decision was easy, and the subsequent decision to announce it at the Constitution Center was deliberate.

"This Constitution Center represents where freedom started in the United States," she said. "It represents progress in society."