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Topics In the News
Pennsylvania County Clerk Ordered to Cease Issuing Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/12/13
Last updated on: 05/22/14
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D. Bruce Hanes on the Rachel Maddow show.

On September 12, 2013, Pennsylvania state judge Dante Pelligrini ordered Montgomery County Registrar of Wills D. Bruce Hanes to cease issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Hanes, who has issued 174 marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, contended that the law prohibiting same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania is unconstitutional. Judge Pelligrini, however, ruled that Hanes had "failed to comply with his mandatory ministerial public duty" under the marriage law.

The decision came after considering more than 500 pages of legal briefing and a hearing on September 4.

The judge concluded that "A clerk of courts has not been given the discretion to decide . . . whether the statute he or she is charged to enforce is a good idea or bad one, constitutional or not. Only courts have the power to make that decision."

Pelligrini did not address either the constitutionality of the marriage law, which is under challenge in federal district court, nor the validity of the same-sex marriages that have been performed as a result of Hanes's issuance of licenses.

In his opinion, Pelligrini says that even if Hanes is correct that portions of the Pennsylvania marriage law are unconstitutional, that determination can only be made by aggrieved parties bringing an appropriate court action to challenge the law.

As Tony Romeo and Jenn Bernstein report in CBS Philly, Hanes expressed disappointment in the decision. He said that he "will be reviewing the decision with county solicitor Ray McGarry and my solicitor Michael Clark to discuss with them next steps, including the possibility of appeal. In the meantime, I will fully comply with the Court's order."

Montgomery County Commissioners Leslie Richards and Chairman Josh Shapiro, who supported Hanes's decision to issue the marriage licenses, said, "We are disappointed in the court's decisions but we also recognize it is a long legal process and it is one that we're going to see through."

The State's General Counsel, who brought the lawsuit against Hanes, issued a statement about the judge's decision, saying in part, "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."

The decision may be read below.

Penn. Dept of Health v. Hanes - Opinion

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