The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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September 13, 2013

Pa. judge orders end to same-sex marriage licenses

HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania judge on Thursday ordered a suburban Philadelphia court clerk to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and the clerk said he would comply but is considering an appeal.

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini said Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes did not have the power to decide on his own whether Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban violates the state constitution.

“Unless and until either the General Assembly repeals or suspends the Marriage Law provisions or a court of competent jurisdiction orders that the law is not to be obeyed or enforced, the Marriage Law in its entirety is to be obeyed and enforced by all commonwealth public officials,” Pellegrini wrote.

Hanes said he was disappointed.

“The decision to issue a marriage license was not made in haste, and what we’re going to do next, based on this decision from the court, will not be made in haste,” Hanes said.

It was not immediately clear what the decision will mean for the 174 couples who obtained licenses.

The state Health Department under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett took Hanes to court after he began issuing licenses to same-sex couples in July, despite a 1996 state law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The department argued that Hanes’ actions could create chaos.

James Schultz, Corbett’s general counsel, issued a statement saying the key issue was whether local officials can decide which laws to uphold or reject, based on their personal legal opinion.

“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 said.

A separate challenge to Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban is pending in federal court.

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