County Official Calls Pa. Marriage Law ’Suspect’
A county clerk defended his decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses in a legal brief Monday that calls Pennsylvania’s marriage law "arbitrary and suspect."
About 135 same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses in Montgomery County since Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes decided to issue them last month.
Hanes, a Democrat, argues that Pennsylvania’s one-man, one-woman marriage law violates both the state and federal constitutions. He also cites the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
"Pennsylvania’s DOMA statute is arbitrary and suspect, and is very similar to the statute which was struck down (by the U.S. Supreme Court)," Hanes said in the brief, filed by the Montgomery County Solicitor’s Office.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, through the Health Department, has gone to Commonwealth Court to stop Hanes from issuing the same-sex marriage licenses. The department has argued that Hanes’ actions could cause serious harm.
"There is no limit to the administrative and legal chaos that is likely to flow from the clerk’s unlawful practice," the administration’s lawyers wrote.
However, Hanes said Monday that no specific harm has been identified. He also wants the case moved to the state Supreme Court instead of Commonwealth Court, which hears cases involving state agencies.
Hanes began issuing marriage licenses on July 24 after Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a fellow Democrat, announced she would not defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, because she believes the 1996 state law is unconstitutional.
Montgomery County, an affluent area near Philadelphia, is the state’s third-most populous county. Democrats who recently won a majority on the county commission support Hanes’ stance.
The Corbett administration has said county officials who flout the law may be guilt of a misdemeanor for each license issued.