News (USA)

Pa. county appeals ruling banning marriage licenses for same-sex couples

PHILADELPHIA — Montgomery County on Tuesday appealed a state court order to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses, the latest volley in Pennsylvania’s fast-paced battle over gay marriage.

Democratic officials in the suburban Philadelphia county had issued 174 same-sex licenses before the Commonwealth Court shut them down last month. The Sept. 12 ruling was a victory for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who opposes gay marriage.

marriage-licenseSeparately, several lawsuits are underway across the state to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s one-man, one-woman marriage law. The litigation in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and elsewhere follows this year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Montgomery County Solicitor Raymond McGarry on Tuesday asked the state Supreme Court to consider whether the Pennsylvania health department – which had sued the county – should be involved in the matter, and whether the dispute ever belonged in Commonwealth Court, which hears appeals of only certain agency decisions.

McGarry also said the court should have considered the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s marriage law, especially given “the trend” to find such laws illegal.

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini had said county Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes lacked the power to decide whether a state law is constitutional or not. Hanes, a Democrat and an elected official whose duties include marriage licenses, believes the law conflicts with his constitutional duties.

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Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, also announced this summer that she would not defend the state marriage law because she believes it violates both the state and U.S. constitutions.

Corbett’s office has therefore been left to defend litigation that includes a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of gay couples, their chil dren and others.

Corbett spokesman Nils Frederiksen did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday. He has previously said that Pellegrini clearly found Hanes had overstepped his authority in issuing the licenses.

Montgomery County, the state’s third-most-populous, was long run by Republicans but has come under Democratic control in the past few years.

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