Pa. again seeks to stop same-sex marriages

Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes "by his own acknowledgment" broke the law, the court filing says.
Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes "by his own acknowledgment" broke the law, the court filing says. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 14, 2013

The state repeated its request Monday that a court bar Montgomery County from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, again arguing that the county is acting illegally.

The filing by the Health Department was the latest legal volley between the Corbett administration and county Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, who is defying the state's 1996 Marriage Law. The state is suing Hanes as clerk of Orphans' Court, which issues marriage licenses.

"By his own acknowledgment, the clerk is repeatedly, continuously, and notoriously acting in clear derogation of the Marriage Law," the filing said, referring to the statute that defines marriage as "a civil contract by which one man and one woman take each other for husband and wife."

County officials did not immediately comment. "Our attorneys are reviewing the state's filing, and may have a comment after a complete review," director of communications Frank X. Custer said late Monday afternoon.

The county has until Monday to file its response. The court has agreed to move quickly to rule on the case.

Hanes sparked a firestorm after he began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples on July 24, saying he was prompted to do so after state Attorney General Kathleen Kane said she could not defend the Marriage Law.

The Health Department sued Hanes in Commonwealth Court on July 30. The lawsuit asks the court to block Hanes from issuing licenses to same-sex couples and accepting returned paperwork documenting marriage ceremonies.

Attorneys for the state say in Monday's filing that the department has the "unambiguous statutory power and duty" to see that all marriage license registration practices are enforced "uniformly and thoroughly" statewide.

Hanes' continued flouting of the law, the filing says, was allowing Pennsylvania residents to go around Orphans' Court clerks in their own counties who were enforcing the law, by getting licenses in Montgomery County.

The state also contended Monday that Commonwealth Court, not the state Supreme Court as the county has argued, is the proper jurisdiction for the lawsuit since it rules on civil actions "against an officer of the commonwealth acting in his official capacity."

On Monday, Montgomery County issued 13 marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, bringing the total to 116.

Contact Carolyn Davis at 610-313-8109,, or @carolyntweets on Twitter.

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