The last two months an elected court clerk has been giving PA marriage licenses to same-sex couples even thought it’s banned in the state. Since July Bruce Hanes the Montgomery County Register of Wills has issued more than 160 marriage licenses because he feels the state law is unconstitutional. So now along with the decision, the legality of the licenses are in question.
Wednesday a hearing was held before Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini. The hearing is part of a lawsuit filed by the Health Department, under Governor Tom Corbett, against a Montgomery County Clerk.
Judge Pellegrini started the hearing by saying he not rule on the constitutionality of the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. He will only determine how power is allocated in the Commonwealth.
“This is a question of whether a local official any local official anywhere in Pennsylvania can simply take action simply based on their own personal opinion. Regardless of the topic,” said Greg Dunlap with the Health Department.
Attorneys for the Health Department say Hanes is illegally acting on behalf of the commonwealth, so they are seeking a court order to stop him.
“The department of health had a responsibility to ensure that these laws are enforced uniformly across the state and as legal representatives of the department of state. We have the ability to bring this action in court,” said Dunlap.
Attorneys for Hanes argued that the Health Department doesn’t have the jurisdiction to stop him. “They do not have a jurisdiction over the issuance’s of marriage licenses.,” said Ray McGary, Solicitor for Montgomery County.
The judge must decide if the Health Department can legally force a government official to follow the law. He also has to decide if Hanes qualifies as a judicial officer. If so, the state Supreme Court may have the say.
“We believe that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction in this matter because Mr. Hanes in his capacity of register of clerk of courts exercised his judicial authority,” said McGary.
Bruce Hanes, the Montgomery County Register of Wills was not in court Wednesday.