HARRISBURG, Pa. - A Pennsylvania judge is stopping a Montgomery County court clerk from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying it was a clear violation of his legal authority.
Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini on Thursday issued an order that said Montgomery County Register of Wills Bruce Hanes didn't have the power to decide on his own whether the same-sex marriage ban violates the state constitution.
Hanes issued four more licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 174.
The state Health Department took him to court after he began issuing them in July.
That was after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and state Attorney General Kathleen Kane called the Pennsylvania ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
According to Pa. General Counsel James Schultz: "The key question in this case has been whether any local official, anywhere in Pennsylvania, has the ability to decide which laws to uphold and which laws to reject based on their own personal legal opinion.
"We appreciate the court's consideration of the legal and social complexities of this issue, along with the future ramifications – not just in this individual case, but in all types of decision made by public officials.
"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 added.
Hanes issued a statement after the ruling:
"I am obviously disappointed by the Court's decision today. Over the course of the next several days, I will be reviewing the decision with county solicitor Ray McGarry and my solicitor Michael Clarke in coming days to discuss with them next steps, including the possibility of appeal. In the meantime, I will fully comply with the Court's order
"Several weeks ago when I made the decision to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, I said I believed I was coming down on the right side of history.
'After having issued 174 marriage licenses since then and having talked with many of those couples, I am more convinced today that I am on the right side of history.
"Regardless of how my particular case is resolved, I believe the case for marriage equality continues to move forward, and I can only hope that my decision helped that effort.
"As I said at the time, I swore to uphold the U.S. and the Pennsylvania Constitutions. Article 1 Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, aptly entitled ‘Inherent rights of mankind,' says ‘all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which is pursuing their own happiness.'
"Hopefully, the courts and the legislature will adopt those principles when the issue of marriage equality is finally decided in Pennsylvania."
Allentown, PA 18102