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Pa. court outlines issues for hearing on marriage licenses for same-sex couples

Pa. court outlines issues for hearing on marriage licenses for same-sex couples

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A Pennsylvania court laid out the issues Thursday to be argued at a hearing in two weeks about a suburban Philadelphia court clerk’s decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Commonwealth Court released an order in the case brought by the state Health Department against Montgomery County Orphan’s Court Clerk Bruce Hanes, limiting argument to five topics.

The court wants lawyers to focus on whether the court has jurisdiction, given that Hanes is a judicial officer. Arguments are set for Sept. 4 in Harrisburg.

Other questions are whether issuing marriage licenses are a judicial act and whether the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s marriage law can be raised as a defense in the case.

Also at issue are whether the Department of Health has standing to sue, and if not, the effect of Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s delegation of defense of the law to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s legal s taff.

A spokesman for Corbett’s Office of General Counsel said Thursday the court order was under review, and the governor’s lawyers will be prepared to present their case at the hearing. A telephone message for Hanes was not immediately returned.

As of Wednesday, Hanes had issued 140 licenses to same-sex couples, and 72 have recorded marriages.

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Hanes began issuing the licenses July 24, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Kane said she would not defend a state law she considers to be unconstitutional against a challenge filed in federal court July 9.

In a court filing, the Health Department said Hanes’ actions would produce chaos and said he and other officials could be subject to misdemeanor charges.

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