Pa. courts still mum on gay marriage

Posted: August 02, 2013

The State of Pennsylvania pressed harder against same-sex marriage Wednesday, with attorneys requesting expedited action from Commonwealth Court and Gov. Corbett himself issuing a rebuke to Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes.

"Every time he issues a license, he is violating the law," said Corbett, who was visiting a factory in Collegeville. "I know the clerk thinks he is coming down on the right side of history, but he has to come down on the right side of the law." The comments were in response to reporters' questions.

Hanes last week began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the state's Marriage Law restricting unions to one man and one woman. Hanes says that law is discriminatory and violates the state constitution.

On Tuesday, the state Department of Health applied for an injunction to force Hanes to stop issuing same-sex licenses. But Wednesday came and went with no action from the court. Six additional gay and lesbian couples received marriage licenses (bringing the total to 41), and two returned completed marriage certificates (bringing the total to eight).

The Democratic-led Montgomery County commissioners are backing Hanes, with Solicitor Ray McGarry drafting a response to the state's lawsuit.

Attorneys for the Department of Health - which collects marriage records and statistics from the counties - toughened their language in requesting expedited action from Commonwealth Court.

"The clerk is repeatedly, continuously, and notoriously acting in clear derogation of the Marriage Law," the request states. "Many agencies of government - federal, state, and local - as well as persons and entities in the private sector may be misled by invalid marriage certificates that purport erroneously to certify that same-sex couples are married under the laws of Pennsylvania."

In California in 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began marrying same-sex couples in violation of state law, it took four weeks for the state Supreme Court to issue an injunction. In other cases, state courts intervened the same day.

A Health Department spokeswoman said she "cannot speculate on when the Commonwealth Court will rule."

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who recently called the Marriage Law "wholly unconstitutional" and declined to defend it against a federal lawsuit, used stronger language Tuesday night.

"The Marriage Law is one of the last discriminatory statutes in the commonwealth," Kane's office wrote in response to a letter from Corbett's Office of General Counsel. "Just as discriminatory laws based on race, religion, gender, disability, and ethnic origin have been struck down by the courts one by one, so, too, will the Marriage Law."

Kane's office called this "a watershed moment" and said it was "certainly not the beginning of the 'chaos and uncertainty' that you hysterically predict."


Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117 or jparks@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @ JS_Parks.

Inquirer staff writer David Sell contributed to this article.

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