PA Judge Orders Halt to Same-sex Marriage Licenses

by Justin Snow, Metro Weekly
September 12, 2013

A Pennsylvania judge Thursday ordered a county clerk to cease issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, declaring the clerk’s actions as outside the scope of his legal authority.

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini ruled that Montgomery County register of wills D. Bruce Hanes violated state law when he began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples earlier this summer. Hanes said he determined prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying was a violation of the state’s equal protection clause

According to Pellegrini, only the General Assembly may suspend its own statutes, only courts have the authority to determine the constitutionality of a statute and all statutes are presumptively constitutional.

“Unless and until either the General Assembly repeals or suspends the Marriage Law provisions or a court of competent jurisdiction orders that the law is not to be obeyed or enforced, the Marriage Law in its entirety is to be obeyed and enforced by all Commonwealth public officials,” Pellegrini wrote.

The Health Department of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett filed a lawsuit against Hanes, arguing his actions upset the uniformity of marriage licenses issued throughout the state, and arguments were heard last week. Hanes issued a total of 174 licenses to same-sex couples, including four on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

“I decided to come down on the right side of history and the law,” Hanes told thePhiladelphia Inquirer in July after announcing he was willing to grant a marriage license to a same-sex couple that had applied and that he would wish them “all the freedom, independence, happiness, and rights that our commonwealth’s constitution purports to grant to them.”

Hanes’s decision followed that of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, who announced two weeks after the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional that she would not defend the state’s law prohibiting same-sex marriage. In July, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the Pennsylvania law is unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania is the only Northeastern state that does not permit same-sex marriage nor civil unions for same-sex couples.

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