Pennsylvania

Pa. court to hear case against county for issuing same-sex marriage licenses

Matt Rourke, AP
Ellen Toplin, right, and Charlene Kurland pose for photographs with their marriage license at a Montgomery County office on Wednesday, despite a state law banning such unions. Staff Reports

PHILADELPHIA — A Pennsylvania court will hear arguments next month on the governor’s attempt to stop a county official from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration says Montgomery County officials are violating the state’s one-man, one-woman marriage law.

Matt Rourke, AP
Ellen Toplin, right, and Charlene Kurland pose for photographs with their marriage license at a Montgomery County office on July 24, despite a state law banning such unions.

However, Democratic officials in the affluent county near Philadelphia believe the state marriage law is unconstitutional.

About 135 same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses in Montgomery County since Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes decided to issue them last month.

On Monday, Hanes defended his decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses in a legal brief that calls Pennsylvania’s marriage law “arbitrary and suspect.”

Hanes, a Democrat, argues that Pennsylvania’s one-man, one-woman marriage law violates both the state and federal constitutions. He also cites the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Hanes began issuing marriage licenses on July 24 after Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a fellow Democrat, announced she would not defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, because she believes the 1996 state law is unconstitutional.

Commonwealth Court will hear arguments on Sept. 4 in Harrisburg.

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Meanwhile, a few mayors around the state are stepping into the fray.

In Western Pennsylvania, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman says he has performed several same-sex marriages at his home.

And State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham has hosted a same-sex wedding. But she says she had a minister perform the ceremony so she would not violate her oath of office.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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