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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 6 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 36
PA judge: No same-sex marriage licenses - Status of couples who already received them remains uncertain
Section One
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PA judge: No same-sex marriage licenses - Status of couples who already received them remains uncertain

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Pennsylvania judge ruled on September 12 that Montgomery County may not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Unless and until either the General Assembly repeals or suspends the Marriage Law provisions or a court of competent jurisdiction orders that the law is not to be obeyed or enforced, the Marriage Law in its entirety is to be obeyed and enforced by all commonwealth public officials, Judge Dan Pellegrini wrote in his ruling.

Montgomery County Registrar D. Bruce Hanes began issuing licenses to Gay and Lesbian couples in July after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA. Hanes maintained that his oath of office, which includes a promise to uphold the U.S. Constitution, required him to issue licenses to any couple that requested one.

LACKS AUTHORITY
However, Pellegrini said that Hanes does not have the authority to decide if the state law barring same-sex marriage was constitutional or not.

In this case a clerk of courts has not been given the discretion to decide that a law ... he or she is charged to enforce is a good idea or a bad one, constitutional or not, the judge wrote. Only courts have the power to make that decision.

A spokesperson for Montgomery County spokesman said they were analyzing Pellegrinis ruling and planned to comment at a later date.

James Schultz, general counsel for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, issued a statement saying the key issue was whether local officials can decide which laws to uphold or reject, based on their personal legal opinion.

We respect the interests and dignity of all the parties involved in this case, but we are a government of laws and it is important that all office holders across the state enforce those laws uniformly, Schultz said.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, like Hanes a Democrat, said she would decline to defend the states marriage law in court.

COUPLES IN LEGAL LIMBO
One issue that Pellegrinis ruling did not address is the legal status of marriage licenses already issued to Gay and Lesbian couples by Montgomery County in the past two months. Hanes says he has issued 174 licenses to same-sex couples.

Marcus Saitschenko of Philadelphia, who obtained a license to marry his longtime partner, told the Associated Press he has faith in the legislative and judicial process.

I'm confident that we will have marriage equality in Pennsylvania soon, Saitschenko wrote in an e-mail Thursday. When my partner and I are legally able to be married in our home state, we will do so.

A separate challenge to Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban is pending in federal court. Pennsylvania is the only Northeastern state that does not offer some kind of legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

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