The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

August 2, 2013

Pa. county defends granting of marriage licenses to gays

NORRISTOWN — Lawyers asked a state court Friday to throw out a lawsuit that seeks to stop a defiant county official from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, who cannot legally wed in Pennsylvania.

County attorneys for Montgomery County clerk D. Bruce Hanes said he has a sworn duty to uphold the Pennsylvania and U.S. constitutions – and Pennsylvania’s law banning same-sex marriage violates both, they argued.

The state “cannot possess a clear legal right to force (Hanes) to abandon his oath,” the lawyers wrote.

The documents were in response to a lawsuit filed this week by the state Health Department that seeks a court order to stop Hanes from granting licenses to gay and lesbian couples. County officials said as of late Friday afternoon, Hanes had issued same-sex couples 62 marriage licenses since July 24, and 13 of those have been completed and the marriages recorded.

Hanes began granting the licenses not long after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA. At the time, he said he wanted to “come down on the right side of history and the law.”

Montgomery County Solicitor Raymond McGarry said at a news conference Friday that the county’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit also argues that Commonwealth Court, where the suit was filed, lacks judicial authority in the case and that the Health Department has no legal say, or standing, in the matter.

“We believe Pennsylvania’s DOMA is unconstitutional,” McGarry said. He cited the state constitution, which says “that all men are born equally free and independent and shall have certain indefeasible rights, among which is the right to pursue one’s own happiness.”

Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast without gay marriage or civil unions.

The Health Department contends that Hanes’ actions will cause “administrative and legal chaos” and will likely lead to illegal claims for benefits.

McGarry argued that only the attorney general, district attorney or a private citizen can potentially have legal standing in the case. He also asked for the case to be transferred to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the state’s highest court and the only one he contended has jurisdiction in the matter.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a separate lawsuit to overturn the 1996 state law defining marriage as a civil contract between one man and one woman.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane has declined to defend the law, saying she believes it is unconstitutional. That task has now fallen to the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, an official in Centre County said she will perform weddings for same-sex couples who obtain a license from Hanes’ office. State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham said although she doesn’t have the power to issue marriage licenses, she can wed couples who already have one.


Text Only | Photo Reprints
State News
  • 4-year-old killed by van after dad’s funeral, police say

    Police in southeastern Pennsylvania say a 4-year-old boy was struck and killed by a passing van hours after returning from his father’s funeral.

    April 14, 2014

  • Woman gets 6 to 12 years in infant kidnapping

    A Pittsburgh area woman was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison after she was convicted of kidnapping an infant by luring the mother to a Fayette County motel with a phony story about a commercial photo shoot for disposable diapers.

    April 11, 2014

  • APTOPIX High School Stabbings.jpg Lawyer: Evaluate stabbing suspect’s mental health

    The attorney for a 16-year-old accused of stabbing 21 other students and a security guard at their high school said Thursday he wants to have a mental health expert evaluate the boy and hopes to have the case moved to juvenile court.

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Obamas send prayers to school stabbing victims

    President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are sending their thoughts and prayers to the victims of a stabbing spree at a Pennsylvania high school.

    April 9, 2014

  • High School Stabbings.jpg Stabbing spree at Westmoreland County high school leaves 20 injured

    A 16-year-old armed with two knives went on a stabbing and slashing spree at a high school near Pittsburgh on Wednesday, leaving 20 people injured, including a school police officer who eventually subdued him with the help of an assistant principal, authorities said.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX stabbings.jpg Student flashed 2 knives, injured 20 in Westmoreland County school, police say

    A 16-year-old boy "was flashing two knives around" when he injured 19 students and a school police officer who eventually subdued him with the help of an assistant principal at a high school near Pittsburgh on Wednesday, a police chief said.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Police: Man killed by train was texting

    Police say a man killed by a commuter train in suburban Philadelphia was texting a friend when he was struck while walking on the tracks.

    April 8, 2014

  • Daniel.jpg Investigators seek cause of fire that killed three brothers

    Authorities searched the rubble of a burned-out farm house over the weekend for the cause of a fire that took the lives of three young brothers left home alone while their widowed mother worked the overnight shift at a direct mail company.

    April 7, 2014 2 Photos

  • Wozniak, John Lawmakers want more aid for cities

    Several bills circulating at the Capitol would open improvement zones more quickly or allow smaller cities to participate.
    Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, wants to make the concept available to more cities the size of Johnstown.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • barbour021614.jpg No shows escaped death by Craigslist killer

    The young woman who says she was driven by satanic spirts to commit a cross-country murder spree over the last six years says authorities are not taking her claims seriously and that she tried to lure other central Pennslyvania men into her death snare with online companionship ads but they didn't show up.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo 2 Stories


Do you think that Jack Williams will get the 270 signatures from city residents needed in order to have a referendum placed on a municipal ballot to have the city's pressure test mandate repealed?

I'm not sure
     View Results
Order Photos

Photo Slideshow

House Ads