Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes has been issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in Pennsylvania for a while now, but that will come to a stop, assuming that he decides to obey a court order issued today. Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini ordered Hanes to cease issuing the licenses, because it is an illegal act. As reported in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:
“Unless and until the General Assembly repeals or suspends the Marriage Law provisions, or a court of competent jurisdiction (overturns it), the Marriage Law in its entirety is to be obeyed and enforced by all Commonwealth public officials,” the judge wrote.
Hanes did not have the right to argue the law is unconstitutional, Pellegrini said.
A federal lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed in June asserts the law is unconstitutional. Attorney General Kathleen Kane said at the time that she would not defend the state in the suit because she believes the law is unconstitutional. She gave the case to the General Counsel's Office under Gov. Tom Corbett.
Hanes began issuing licenses to same-sex couples after Kane's announcement. He has granted 174 such licenses.
The fact that Pennsylvania's Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, has chosen not to defend the Commonwealth in the ACLU suit has been an issue of consternation between her office, and Governor Tom Corbett. The latest issue has been over expenses to the taxpayers, because Corbett's General Counsel office is hiring private attorneys at a rate of $400 an hour to defend the law. Corbett's General Counsel already got attention on the gay marriage issue in general thanks to the Hanes case. They had chosen to compare granting marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples to the concept of granting the same to 12-year-old children. While their point was to state that issuing the licenses was illegal, by mentioning another class of people that are not legally permitted to obtain a marriage license, that was lost in the shuffle as people interpreted it to mean that the Governor's office wished to compare same-sex couples to children.
While today's ruling settles the Commonwealth lawsuit for the moment, the federal case that has been started by the ACLU is facing deadlines shortly. Governor Corbett's legal team must reply to that case by Sept. 16th, and the court is hoping to have a meeting on Sept. 30th to set a time-frame for the case.