Finally, Montco to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

D. Bruce Hanes, the Montgomery County register of wills, is one of 10 finalists among 900 nominees for the American Mustache Institute's sixth annual Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year.
D. Bruce Hanes, the Montgomery County register of wills, is one of 10 finalists among 900 nominees for the American Mustache Institute's sixth annual Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year. (MATT ROURKE / Associated Press)
Posted: May 29, 2014

A week after same-sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania, Montgomery County was still waiting for permission from the state Supreme Court to issue marriage licenses. Now the wait is over.

D. Bruce Hanes, the register of wills and clerk of Orphans Court, said he would begin granting licenses to gay and lesbian couples Wednesday morning.

His office, at 450 Swede St. in Norristown, opens at 8:30 a.m.

Last summer, Hanes issued marriage licenses to 174 same-sex couples before the practice was legal.

Hanes, who is also a lawyer, had argued that the state's law limiting marriage to one man and one woman was unconstitutional. The Corbett administration took him to court, and a state judge agreed that Hanes lacked the authority to make such a determination.

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini ordered Hanes not to issue any more licenses, and barred him from accepting certificates from the 56 couples who had received a license but not yet gotten married.

A federal judge last week, in a separate case, took the same view as Hanes and struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional and discriminatory. But Hanes was still bound by Pellegrini's ruling and could not resume issuing licenses until the ruling was lifted.

While dozens of couples were popping champagne in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties, Hanes' office had to tell customers to wait, or go elsewhere.

Some couples did go elsewhere. But a few said they would wait until Hanes could give them the stamp of approval.

Hanes, a round, mustachioed 67-year-old who is even-tempered but unafraid of controversy, said last week that he was gratified to see the ban overturned, and downplayed the delay in his own office.

"That's something that is sort of a blip on the spark of history. We'll look back on it as just that, an inconvenient moment," he said last Wednesday.

By then, the governor's office had announced that it would no longer defend the same-sex marriage ban, and state attorneys began requesting that all pending cases - including that against Hanes - be dropped.

"I continue to maintain the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman," Corbett said in a statement. But "after review of the opinion and on the advice of my Commonwealth legal team, I have decided not to appeal."

County Commissioner Josh Shapiro said last Wednesday: "It's a temporary hold. I view this more as a technical issue. The stay will be lifted very shortly."

But Thursday and Friday came and went, followed by a long holiday weekend.

The state Supreme Court finally lifted Pellegrini's order Tuesday afternoon - just a few minutes before Hanes' office closed for the day.


jparks@philly.com

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