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Lawyers challenging Pennsylvania’s law banning same-sex marriage are asking a federal judge to bypass a June trial in favor of a quick ruling in the case.
Pennsylvania is now the only state in the northeast which laws do not allow same-sex marriage.
But many couples have been saying since the beginning that they’re not letting up easy.
And now this motion filed may expedite what they’ve been fighting for, for years.
For Reverend Lori Rivera it was a personal experience that she hopes to experience one day.
“My partner and I have been together for 28 years, we’re waiting for it to be legal in Dauphin County so we too can get married,” says Rev. Lori Rivera.
Rivera married a gay Harrisburg couple back in July along the Susquehanna River.
“As with many couples who are having a service, you could just see the joy in their faces that they get to do this,” says Rev. Rivera.
It was after they received a license from Montgomery County Clerk, Bruce Hanes.
But it was one which was later deemed illegal, and his actions were frowned upon by others in the same position.
“We took an oath to support a ban to defend the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Pennsylvania and by what he did I believe he disavowed that oath,” says York County Clerk of Courts, Brad Jacobs.
The civil rights lawyers who are representing a widow, 11 couples, and one of the couples’ teen daughters filed the papers in federal court in Harrisburg on Monday.
They’re asking for a summary judgement, meaning a ruling without going to trial, because they say the state’s lawyers have not refuted their claims that the ban unlawfully prevents them from getting the same legal protection and tax benefits as married couples.
Couples in Dauphin County, like Rivera, say they’re holding out hope.
“We say that we’re the state that brings rights for all people declaring us free from tyranny yet we’re not letting all the citizens of the state have those rights,” says Rev. Rivera.
Governor Corbett’s lawyers, who are defending the constitutionality of the law, have two weeks to respond to the motion.
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.

Judge Pellegrini said he would post his decision ‘very soon’ on the Commonwealth Court website.


The landmark gay marriage hearing begins Wednesday in the Capital City.  For two months, an elected court clerk in the Philadelphia suburbs has been giving PA marriage licenses to same-sex couples in a state where it’s banned.

The hearing at Commonwealth Court is a lawsuit filed by Governor Tom Corbett’s Health Department against a Montgomery County Clerk.  It’s up to the court to decide whether the clerk has added Pennsylvania to the growing list of states that have legalized same-sex marriages, or whether he has been acting illegally.

D. Bruce Hanes is the Montgomery County Register of Wills.  He’s issued marriage licenses as part of his duties at clerk since late July.  This began shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out portions of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  So now the legality of the more than 150 licenses Hanes has handed out remains a question from those both for and against same sex marriage in PA.

Celebrations among the gay marriage advocates in Pennsylvania was immediate after the Supreme Court ruling on Thursday.

One local group is focusing on smaller victories first, before tackling the ever controversial gay marraige battle.

It’s not specifically gay marriage rights that people in Lancaster are focusing on.

It’s protection banning discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity.

“God bless america…” sang singers at the US Capitol on Thursday.

Gay marriage supporters feel a new sense of adrenaline today after a historical ruling on the national level.

“Are treated like anyone else,” says LGBT Caucus leader, Barry Russell.

But before local groups rush the Pennsylvania State Capitol, they want to focus on a push for overall equality as two non discrimination bills are currently being discussed in the House and Senate.

“In all the states that have affirmed marriage equality already, they did not do so without already having a non discrimination bill on the books,” says Russell.

Lancaster City has a non discrimination clause but step outside city lines and things are very different.

“Yes you can be fired from your job, you can be denied housing and you can be kicked out of a restaurant just because of how you’re perceived,” says Russell.

For some this is a very personal issue.

“Follow the golden rule, treat others as you want to be treated…that’s it in a nutshell,” says Sally Lyall.

Sally Lyall’s cousin was brutally beatened to the point that he was unrecognizable.

She says it was because he’s gay.

“It’s savagery unbelievable,” says Lancaster Democratic Chair, Sally Lyall.

Gay rights advocate Laurie Baulig says Thursday’s court ruling is like winning game one of the world series.

A small, but very proud moment.

“I really never even conceived of a day where we would have marriage equality…I hope to see it in my lifetime. I really do,” says Laurie Bauling.

As of Saturday evening, both House and Senate Bills did not have any action taken.

Those bills would add sexual orientation and gender identity in expression to an already exisiting non discrimination act.

Local News
06/26/13

Steven Breit Sits Down to Talk About DOMA Ruling

FOX43 legal analyst Steven Breit sits down to talk about the  DOMA ruling

Following Wednesday’s rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court impacting gay marriage, the ban on those marriages remains in effect in Pennsylvania.

But, gay marriage supporters say the rulings will help to shift the legal and political battles in their direction.

“The legal landscape, if you will, for marriage equality, for non-discrimination has now fundamentally changed,” said state Rep. Brian Sims (D-182nd), Pennsylvania’s first openly gay state lawmaker.

As a civil rights attorney dealing with LGBT issues, he pointed out the rulings leave several legal questions unanswered. He predicted those questions likely will lead the Supreme Court to take up larger questions of the constitutionality of gay marriage.

“Somebody can go to New York and legally get married to their partner and get those thousand federal rights. But, the moment they now cross back into Pennsylvania, are they losing federal rights because of state law? And the answer is most likely yes,” said Sims.

Randall Wenger, an attorney for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, is involved in a federal case challenging the state’s Defense Against Marriage Act.

“We’re pleased this wasn’t the Roe v. Wade of the marriage issue,” said Wenger about Wednesday’s rulings. “We can continue to fight on the state level to preserve one man/one woman marriage here in the state of Pennsylvania.”

A federal judge in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District put a case on hold last year dealing with two women who were married in Canada.

The case is Cozen O’Connor v. Tobits. It centers on Jennifer Tobits and her wife, Sarah Ellyn Farley.

Farley was a partner at Cozen O’Connor and died in 2009. Since then, Tobits and Farley’s family have disagreed who should receive Farley’s death benefits.

In an order last fall, the judge in the case said he put it on hold until other similar cases around the country could be resolved. It’s unclear if Wednesday’s rulings will reignite this case, but Wenger believes it will start to gain traction again, either through a decision from the judge or a request for more briefs from attorneys.

“No matter what happens, because our thoughts are so deeply held on these issues, no court is ultimately going to decide. And, it’s going to be an ongoing societal discussion,” said Wenger.

Gov. Corbett (R) Wednesday reiterated his support for Pennsylvania’s existing marriage laws.

Rep. Sims says it’s more likely the courts will weigh in on the gay marriage issue before lawmakers in Harrisburg do.

In the meantime, he says he’s working to pass non-discrimination, anti-bullying and other laws affecting gay people’s civil rights. He believes Wednesday’s rulings may provide momentum to pass some of those laws.

SCOTUS to rule on Prop 8 and DOMA today

The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg released the following statement regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling today:

The Church teaches that everyone has inviolable dignity and deserves love and respect.  There are many ways to protect the basic human rights of all, but today’s redefining of marriage serves no one’s rights, least of all those of children.   Everyone should be treated equally, but it is not discrimination to treat differently things that are different.

The difference is the difference. Men and women matter. They are equal but different. Sexual difference is essential to marriage.

We see the issue as not about equality, but rather about the purpose of marriage. We see marriage as a communal good that through the permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman can bring life into the world, not one that is simply for the emotional benefit of 2 people.

Marriage belongs not to the State nor to the Church, but is a natural institution which both should recognize. In today’s decisions the State is overreaching in redefining it. The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage. Now is the time to redouble our efforts in witness to this truth. These decisions are part of a public debate of great consequence. The future of marriage and the well-being of our society hang in the balance.

While the nations capital filled with celebrations from same sex supporters, the courts decision leaving many same sex couples wondering how this will affect them. Cheers filled the LGBT center in Harrisburg as the Supreme Court same-sex marriage rulings came down. David Kern says his emotions overcame him as he learned the news.

“ It`s an amazing day for freedom and equal rights for all. My partner and I love each other dearly and to be finally said that we are equal as everyone else is an amazing feeling,” says Kern

The Supreme Count ruled part of the Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional and the Justices made it possible for same-sex marriages to resume in California after rejecting an appeal on the state’s Proposition 8.

While there were celebrations going on around the country opponents are hinting that it`s no where near the end.

“ No matter how any of us feel about the outcomes in these cases one thing is true. The Supreme Court has no authority  when it comes to the nature of marriage.  That authority belongs to the creator whom our founders declared is the source of all our rights. The public conversation over marriage continues and that is a good thing,” says Rev. Rob Scheneck, Evangelical Church Alliance

One thing that both sides agree on is that the fight continues.

“ There is still a lot of work to be done in Pennsylvania and this is a great step forward. This helps with the foundation but we have a lot to do here,” says Ted Martin, Equality Pennsylvania

By Bill Mears - CNN Supreme Court Producer, WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal over same-sex marriage on jurisdictional grounds, ruling Wednesday private parties do not have “standing” to defend California’s voter-approved ballot measure barring gay and lesbian couples from state-sanctioned wedlock.

The ruling clears the way for same-sex marriages in California to resume.

The 5-4 decision avoids, for now, a sweeping conclusion on whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional “equal protection” right that would apply to all states.

At issue was whether the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law prevents states from defining marriage to exclude same-sex couples, and whether a state can revoke same-sex marriage through referendum, as California did, once it already has been recognized.

But a majority of the Supreme Court opted not to rule on those issues. Instead, it ruled on “standing” — whether those who brought the suit to the court were entitled to do so.

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” said Chief Justice John Roberts. He was supported by an unusual coalition: fellow conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and more liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan.

By dismissing the case, the court leaves in place the lower court decision in California that allows for same-sex marriage to be reinstated. The federal appeals court stay on the decision will be lifted.

It was act two in a closely watched pair of high court appeals over state and federal laws and the limits of recognizing the ability of gay and lesbian couples to wed. The outcome of the rulings gives same-sex couples much to be encouraged about.

California voters approved Proposition 8 in 2008 with 52% of the vote shortly after the state Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages are legal. The measure put gay and lesbian marriages on hold in the state, but a federal appeals court later rule Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

Two of the original plaintiffs — Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, a Burbank, California, couple who want to marry but could not because of Proposition 8 — contended the state was discriminating against them because of their sexuality.

“This is about our freedom and our liberty,” Katami told CNN. “We are not trying to topple marriage. We are not trying to redefine marriage. What we are trying to say is that equality is the backbone of our country.”

Both they and Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier, the other plaintiff couple from Berkeley, were in the courtroom when the rulings came out. They were cheered when emerging from the court building.

Their views were echoed by fellow same-sex marriage supporters, who rallied outside the court with the hope that the justices will eventually issue a broad ruling to strike down bans nationwide.

In dissent, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the court’s majority ignored the initiative process that led to the passage of Proposition 8.

“What the court fails to grasp or accept is the basic premise of the initiative process. And it is this. The essence of democracy is that the right to make law rests in the people and flows to the government, not the other way around. Freedom resides first in the people without need of a grant from government,” he said. “The California initiative process embodies these principles and has done so for over a century. … In California and the 26 other states that permit initiatives and popular referendums, the people have exercised their own inherent sovereign right to govern themselves. The court today frustrates that choice.”

Kennedy was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor.

The case is Hollingsworth v. Perry (12-144).

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