Pa. judge orders clerk to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses

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Commonwealth Court President Judge Tom Pellegrini told a suburban Philadelphia court clerk Thursday he has to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

The decision comes a week after a hearing in which lawyers for Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration argued the county official can’t decide which laws to enforce.

“Local officials in Pennsylvania are required to obey the law regardless of their personal opinion,” said Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the governor’s Office of General Counsel.

The Pa. Department of Health sued Bruce Hanes, Montgomery County’s Register of Wills, earlier this summer after he started issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Pennsylvania law forbids same-sex marriage.

Hanes said at the time the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this summer to strike down part of the Defense of Marriage Act prompted him to start issuing the licenses.

He gave out 174 of them. One license went to Swatara Township couple Bolton Winpenny and James Booth.

“This was another step in the right direction. A lot of this was about public awareness. People are going to get sick of their government spending so much time saying we can’t be married,” said Winpenny.

The judge’s ruling did not address the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban. It also did not address the legal status of the 174 licenses Hanes issued.

Randall Wenger, an attorney for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, said he believes the judge’s decision means the licenses are invalid.

“What we’re doing here in the sideshow and in Commonwealth Court, I think, just perpetuates a sense of lawlessness and confusion regarding what the law is,” said Wenger.

Frederiksen said it’s not clear what the status of the licenses is, and that those who received them may have to go to court to get an answer.

Earlier this summer, the Pennsylvania ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. It’s unclear when hearings will take place in that case.

Hanes said he was disappointed by the judge’s decision, and added he’s looking into appeal options.