Protesters plan 'pray-in' over Montco gay marriages

Charlene Kurland, 69, center, gives her partner, Ellen Toplin, 60, right, a big hug after they received their official Marriage License from Second Deputy, Helene Sepulveda, left, in Norristown, PA. Recorder of Wills Office, 4th floor, One Montgomery Plaza, Norristown. Two women have been married in a religious ceremony near Philadelphia after getting a same-sex license from county officials defying a state ban. They simply want to take advantage of the opportunity offered by Montgomery 07/24/2013 ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )

A conservative group is planning a rally and "pray-in" Friday to protest the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in Montgomery County and demand action from Gov. Corbett and other elected officials.

Organizers expect 20 to 30 protesters to fill the Register of Wills office in Norristown at noon Friday.  Michael McMonagle, president of the Pro-Life Coalition of Pa., said the protest will be peaceful, but "it could be an act of civil disobediance."

McMonagle said he and others are prepared to be arrested if public officials decide their protest is disrupting the office's ability to operate.

"We're going there with the view that this is a crime scene, that they're committing a crime by issuing those licenses," McMonagle said Thursday. 

Montco Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes began issuing licenses Wednesday, saying that the law defining marriage as between a man and a woman conflicts with the state Constitution, which requires equal protection and bans discrimination based on gender.

The Pro-Life Coalition argues that issuing the licenses in violation of the state law -- rather than letting the courts or Legislature sort it out -- amounts to criminal misuse of Hanes' public office.

The group is urging District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman to charge Hanes with misdemeanor violations such as tampering with public records and obstructing governmental function.  Ferman, in a statement, said she would not intervene.

"Based upon the current law of Pennsylvania, a same-sex marriage license is not legally valid. However, the remedy for issuing an invalid marriage license does not include intervention by the Office of the District Attorney," Ferman wrote, adding that she does "not have jurisdiction over every law of the Commonwealth."

More than anything, McMonagle said, his group is angry with Gov. Corbett for failing to take a strong stand or legal action to invalidate the licenses and stop Montgomery County from issuing any more.

"He should have been out to stop this right away," McMonagle said.

A spokesman for Corbett said Wednesday that, “Individual elected officials cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce."  But the governor has not indicated whether he will intervene.

McMonagle's group argues that "the primary purpose of civil marriage is to unite children with their mother and father" and that gay and lesbian marriages are "inherently unequal to the union of one man and one woman because homosexual relationships are incapable of producing children."

That argument has been rejected by several courts of law, including the U.S. Supreme Court in its recent ruling striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that DOMA "places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple ... and it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”