Politics

Judge Orders Pennsylvania County to Stop Issuing Gay Marriage Licenses

The Commonwealth Court today granted the state's request to force Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The Legislature in 1996 explicitly banned same-sex marriage and refused to recognize such unions performed in other states.
September 13, 2013

The Commonwealth Court today granted the state's request to force Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The Legislature in 1996 explicitly banned same-sex marriage and refused to recognize such unions performed in other states.

Hanes in July said he believed that law unconstitutional, and began issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples from around the state. Hanes said his decision was strongly influenced by the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane's subsequent refusal to defend the state statute in court. In light of Kane's refusal, the Corbett administration filed suit against Hanes, asking the court for mandamus relief -- a rarely invoked remedy in which one government agency seeks to force action upon another government agency.

After considering nearly 500 pages of legal briefings and over an hour's testimony Sept. 4 in Harrisburg, President Judge Dan Pellegrini today ordered Hanes to stop issuing the licenses.

"A clerk of courts has not been given the discretion to decide ... whether the statute he or she is charged to enforce is a good idea or bad one, constitutional or not. Only courts have the power to make that decision," Pellegrini wrote.

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