People hold up signs and cheer during a Tuesday rally in Philadelphia that celebrated the end of the state’s ban on gay marriage.
People hold up signs and cheer during a Tuesday rally in Philadelphia that celebrated the end of the state's ban on gay marriage. (MATT SLOCUM The Associated Press)

Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage was overturned by a federal judge Tuesday in a decision that legalizes same-sex marriage throughout the Northeast.

But in York County, no same-sex couples showed up at the Register of Wills Office to apply for marriage licenses.

The office is ready to issue licenses, said Register of Wills Brad Jacobs.

"This is now the law of the Commonwealth," he said.

Marriage licenses in Pennsylvania have a three-day wait period attached to them, Jacobs said. Couples can leave the office with a marriage license, he said, but they will not be officially married until three days later.

Locally: York City resident Delma Welch is "thrilled" about the decision.

Welch has married her partner, Peg Welch, three times in almost 24 years together. And for the first time, they filed joint taxes this year, Welch, 66, said.

Most recently, the two wed on July 31 last year after obtaining a marriage license in Montgomery County. It is not yet clear how Pennsylvania will treat those marriages, as there is separate litigation ongoing in state court to determine their legal status, according to the ACLU.

But for now, Welch is happy with Jones' decision.

"We have waited over 23 years for this basic right," she said. "We're thrilled about this hearing."

Lewis Delauder, of York City, called the decision a positive move, adding it was only a matter of time before it happened.

"There are people who can step out and see things clearly," he said.

The ruling: In his decision, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III called the plaintiffs — a widow, 11 couples and one of the couples' two teenage daughters — courageous.

"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history," Jones wrote of the 1996 state ban.

Jones declined to put his ruling on hold during a potential appeal by the governor's office, which defended the ban in court. The order therefore went into immediate effect Tuesday.

State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. If Jones' decision stands, Pennsylvania would become the 19th state to legalize gay marriage.

Out of state: One of the Pennsylvania plaintiffs, Maureen Hennessey, married her longtime companion, Mary Beth McIntyre, out of state in 2011. McIntyre died in May after battling cancer.

"Everyone is just thrilled," said Hennessey, 53, of Philadelphia, who was sipping champagne after the ruling was announced. "We were optimistic for a win, the attorneys worked so hard ... now we'll be celebrating."

Lawyers for the plaintiffs had said the law harms same-sex couples and their children by depriving them of the legal protections and tax benefits afforded to married couples.

Corbett's office was left to defend the law after Attorney General Kathleen Kane called it unconstitutional and refused to do so. The governor did not immediately announce whether he would appeal.

"The opinion's just been published. We're currently reviewing all the legal issues presented in the opinion," said Joshua Maus, a spokesman for Corbett's legal office.

Kane, the American Civil Liberties Union and other supporters cheered the ruling, which came as the state's primary elections were under way.

"Our commonwealth progressed today, and so have the hopes and dreams of many who suffer from inequality," Kane said.

Opposition: But the ringing of same-sex marriage bells was not welcome to everyone's ears.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, whose president is Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg, released a statement saying it does not support Jones' ruling

"Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage is not a statement about the worth of human beings who experience same-sex attraction, but a statement about the nature of marriage itself," the statement says.

It further says the conference is hopeful an appeal will be made.

In another statement, Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason said the same-sex marriage debate should be held in the Legislature, not "dictated by a judicial fiat."

"Grassroots activists came together in 2012 to debate and form our Republican Party Platform, which clearly supports the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman," Gleason said in the statement.

The lawsuit: The Pennsylvania lawsuit, filed July 9, was the first known challenge to the state law that effectively bans same-sex marriage and the recognition of gay marriages from other states.

At least five later challenges have surfaced in state and federal courts since the lawsuit was filed, including one in which a county official is defending his decision to issue 174 marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Oregon became the 18th state to recognize same-sex marriage on Monday, when jubilant couples began applying for marriage licenses immediately after U.S. District Judge Michael McShane issued a ruling that invalidated that state's voter-approved same-sex marriage ban.

Also Monday, a federal judge in Utah ordered state officials to recognize more than 1,000 gay marriages that took place in the state over a two-week period before the U.S. Supreme Court halted same-sex weddings with an emergency stay.

Staff writer Greg Gross and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.