Gov. Corbett on Wednesday announced he would not appeal the federal court ruling that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages.
In a statement, the governor repeated his personal opposition to same-sex marriage but said his administration lawyers had concluded that an appeal of Tuesday's historic decision was "extremely unlikely" to succeed.
"As a Roman Catholic, the traditional teaching of my faith has not wavered. I continue to maintain the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman," Corbett said. But, he added, "My duties as governor require that I follow the laws as interpreted by the Courts and make a judgment as to the likelihood of a successful appeal. It is my hope that as the important issue of same-sex relationships continues to be addressed in our society, that all involved be treated with respect."
The decision all but ends a years-long legal battle in Pennsylvania and moved the Commonwealth into the growing column of states giving recognition and legal protection to gay and lesbian marriages. It also could extinguish an fight that was poised to become a central campaign issue as the Republican governor seeks re-election in November.
Corbett's announcement came one day after U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III declared the 1996 state law that defined marriage as between men and women to be unconstitutional. That decision sent same-sex couples flocking statewide to get marriage licenses.
"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them onto the ash heap of history," Jones wrote in his 39-page opinion.
Reaction to the Corbett's decision was swift.
"This is a milestone for our movement," said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. "It reinforces the reality that this isn't a partisan issue. It's about fundamental fairness and dignity for all people, including lesbians and gay men."
Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based advocacy group for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community said Corbett "did the right thing in not standing in the way of thousands of loving couples' ability to make lifelong commitments to each other through marriage. Breaking down this dark wall of discrimination in the Keystone State strengthens our ever-growing momentum as we continue to expand the marriage equality map."