PA Sues To Stop Same-Sex Marriages In Montgomery County

6a00d8341c730253ef01901e6c1f11970b-800wiThe Pennsylvania Department of Public Health today filed a state lawsuit to prevent Montgomery County and its clerk, D. Bruce Hanes, from issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples, the AP reports. Hanes first started granting marriage liscenses to same-sex couples last week, compelled he said by the ruling in United States v. Windsor and a desire to be "on the right side of history." While Pennsylvania does not ban same-sex marriage in its constitution as many other states do, the state did pass a law in 1996 that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman and goes even further in not recognizing same-sex unions codified out of state. It is this law that Hanes, an independently elected Democrat, is accused of "repeatedly and continuously" flouting in the suit filed by the state. Meanwhile, Montgomery County solicitor Ray McGarry has insisted that the county will continue to issue marriage licenses to gay couples and believes the state's lawsuit "has serious flaws." That lawsuit seems to be particularly concerned with illegal requests for benefits and the alleged "administrative and legal chaos that is likely
to flow from the clerk's unlawful practice of issuing marriage licenses
to those who are not permitted under Pennsylvania law to marry."

6a019102598881970c0192abfb4378970d-250wiHanes' move to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has recently sparked protests and drawn the ire of the Natonal Organization of Marriage. The state's decision to challenge Hanes in court comes the same day that Pennsylvanian Governor Tom Corbett (R) announced, after much speculation, that he would defend the state's law defining marriage in Pennsylvania as being between a man and a woman in a federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU. Democratic state Attorney General Kathleen Kane previously stated she would not defend the law on the grounds that it was discriminatory, a decision which displeased Governor Corbett and The Pennsylvania Pastors Network who called her refusal to defend the law, "a direct attack on the integrity of the family." According to the AP, "[Corbett's] General Counsel James Schultz said that Kane's refusal 'establishes a very troubling precedent.' "This will create chaos and uncertainty – not unlike what we are seeing in the unlawful actions' of Hanes, Schultz wrote."

Perhaps most troubling in this case is the fate of the 34-or-so same-sex couples in Montgomery County that have received marriage licenses as of Tuesday afternoon, liscenses that could potentially be nullified should the court rule against Hanes.



  1. Seth says

    No Sean, I don’t think the couples involved should be ‘troubled’ by this. They took this step in part as a show of civil disobedience to spark precisely this kind of courtroom conversation.

    Regardless of how this turns out, this was a step they took with full information. Those of us who did so in 2008 in California faced the same uncertainty leading up to the Prop 8 vote — and did so willingly.

  2. Pete N SFO says

    This is pretty much how things went down in San Francisco after the historic marriage ruling in Massachusetts. Gavin Newsom ordered the city of SFO to begin issuing licenses… cut to 8+ years later & we finally had the SCOTUS weighing in.

    Pennsylvania can drag it out and waste a lot of time & money while doing so, as well as damaging the quality of life for gay couples in PA, but… it is OVER.

    Nothing to see here… please move along PA and get with the 20th Century already. lol

  3. says

    State Health Departments oversee marriage licenses, so that’s not surprising.

    And I agree with Seth: both the clerk who’s issuing licenses and the couples who are receiving them should be well aware that their actions are civil disobedience; surely they all proceeded with eyes wide open. They were willing to stand on principle and let the legal cards fall where they may.

  4. Rexford says

    While I’m all for civil disobedience, I feel this strategy didn’t work out well in California and may have actually prolonged marriage equality coming to the state. Who here can forget the non-stop broadcast of the pro-Prop 8 commercial showing the “lawless” Gavin Newsom blustering, “The door’s wide open now. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not.” The first time I saw this ad, I cringed and my heart sank to my stomach.

  5. Kevin says

    Rexford,several things went wrong in California,Gavin Newsom doing what he did was the least among.

    1) There was little to no effort to reach out to the black and latino communities gay or otherwise so the only messages they heard were from the Prop 8 folks.

    2) THe anti Prop 8 side failed to take into account the fact there are parts of California that are very red and no better when it comes to gay rights then TX,MS etc.

    3) It was simply taken for granted CA wouldn’t uphold Prop 8 and by the time that realization happened,it was too late.

  6. Francis #1 says

    It is over in the long run, but it sure as hell isn’t over right now. We’ll see what happens in Montgomery County. History isn’t on the side of the County officials. With that being said, I agree as well that the right decision in standing up against this law was made here, if only to bring attention to it and stand up for the right thing.

  7. Rexford says

    Kevin – I wasn’t really taking Newsom to task for what he did, I was pointing to how the other side was then able to capitalize on that “lawless image” of him in their ensuing campaign and connect it to their other messages.

    But for the record, it’s been documented that the “Newsom ad” and the “Princes ad” resonated most with voters of “Yes on 8.” Refer to this study:

  8. Just Do It says

    No worries about the 34 if they are nullified. Just another 34 cases that will eventually be overturned and serve as 34 nails in the coffin of these hideous marriage restrictions.

  9. Anon2478 says

    The marriages, unfortunately, will no doubt be voided.

    Considering that fact, I’m unsure of the productivity of this type of public protest. I don’t think it’s very kind or compassionate to give gay couples marriages licenses, and hope, that is no doubt going to be annulled. :/

  10. Kris says

    A little help fellows…If a couple of Florida boys wanted to head north to Marry, what city/state would be best for the place? Maryland, DC? Any suggestions?

  11. Steven says

    Actually I think this is the best way to get the PA law overturned. These people can go the same route as the CA resident’s and say their marriage must be protected under full faith and credit and equal protection clauses of the US Constitution, which trumps state law and state constitutional statements.
    If I were strategizing to get the law overturned this is exactly the route I would go. The ACLU gets some gay couples willing to be frontispieces and NAMES on the suit, get a sympathetic county clerk to issue licenses; the AG refuses to support the current law, and the governor is being forced to go it alone. Court can then cite both cases and throw out the PA law. Whether it stays in PA Supreme or goes to the SCOTUS will be anybody’s guess; however, this is the type of momentum we need.

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