Judge rejects Schuylkill official's bid to challenge same-sex marriage

Posted: June 20, 2014

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III on Wednesday denied a county row officer's request to intervene and appeal his ruling that overturned Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban.

Schuylkill County Register of Wills Theresa Santai-Gaffney had asked Jones to halt same-sex marriages in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on the issue.

She argued that marriage is for states to decide and said Jones' May 20 ruling - which declared Pennsylvania's marriage ban unconstitutional - left her duties as Schuylkill County's issuer of marriage licenses unclear.

Jones rejected that argument, saying, "Our decision was entirely unequivocal." He noted that the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the primary defendant in the case, further clarified the issue in a memo directing "every government official who administers the Marriage Law" to issue licenses "without regard to the gender of the applicants."

Immediately after Jones' denial, attorneys for Santai-Gaffney filed a notice that they intend to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Jones said Santai-Gaffney lacked standing to intervene in the case, and chastised her for using her elected office to fight a "deep personal disagreement with our decision to strike down the Marriage Laws."

"At bottom, we have before us a contrived legal argument by a private citizen who seeks to accomplish what the chief executive of the commonwealth, in his wisdom, has declined to do," he wrote.

Gov. Corbett had declined to appeal Jones' ruling, saying that although he disagreed with same-sex marriage, he did not believe the case would prevail.

Gay and lesbian couples have been getting married across the state for nearly a month - including in Schuylkill County, where Santai-Gaffney's attorney said she would follow Jones' ruling until another court intervenes.


jparks@philly.com

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