Judge Vows Quick Pa. Same-Sex Marriage Case Ruling
A judge promised to rule as quickly as possible after hearing arguments Wednesday about whether a suburban Philadelphia court clerk should be forced to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini said a central issue is "how power is allocated in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
"What’s before us today is generally, ’Who decides?’" Pellegrini told the full courtroom in Harrisburg at the start of oral arguments.
Pennsylvania is the only northeastern state that does not allow gay marriage or civil unions. A 1996 state law says a marriage must be between a man and a woman, and it says same-sex marriages performed elsewhere cannot be recognized in Pennsylvania.
D. Bruce Hanes, the elected register of wills in Montgomery County, defied the ban in late July by issuing licenses to same-sex couples, as part of his duties as the orphan’s court clerk. His action followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to throw out part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and a statement by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane that the same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.
The state Health Department, which is seeking a court order to stop Hanes, said it must ensure that marriage registrations are "uniformly and thoroughly enforced throughout the state." It said his actions have interfered with the proper performance of its powers, duties and responsibilities.
"He is issuing marriage licenses that the law clearly does not allow," said Greg Dunlap, representing the Health Department. "The Department of Health has an interest in the integrity of the record keeping system."