PA Judge Orders County Clerk To Stop Issuing Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples

The battle for marriage equality has flared up in Pennsylvania, as a judge ruled today that a renegade county clerk must stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In July, Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes received an application for a marriage license by two female doctors. Although a 1996 Pennsylvania law outlaws gay marriage, Hanes consulted his solicitor to discuss the constitutionality of that law, concluded that it was unconstitutional, and gave the couple the marriage license anyway. Since then, he’s issued 174 marriage licenses to same-sex couples and has become somewhat of a folk hero in the marriage equality movement.

“Based on the recent Supreme Court decisions over the Defense of Marriage Act, I felt that Pennsylvania's Marriage Act was indeed unconstitutional," Hanes told Mother Jones. "So in this office, we no longer ask people their gender."

Hanes was quickly sued by state’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, and Commonwealth Judge Dan Pellegrini ruled Thursday that it’s Hanes duty to enforce the laws on the books, not “to decide that a law...he or she is charged to enforce is a good idea or a bad one, constitutional or not.”

“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," Pellegrini wrote.

After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage act earlier this summer, the ACLU immediately challenged the constitutionality of the Pennsylvania law. The ban is being defended by the office of Governor Tom Corbett — though the state’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane thinks the ban is unconstitutional and has refused to defend it. She also refused to try the case against Hanes, which is why Corbett is trying that case as well.

In an odd twist, due to the nature of the ACLU lawsuit, county clerks who have refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses are also now being sued.