Friday, October 31, 2014
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Montgomery County register of wills to appeal same-sex marriage ruling

Montgomery County Register of Wills Bruce Hanes in his Norristown office July 31, 2013, the day after the state Department of Health asked Commonwealth Court to issue an injunction to stop him from issuing any more licenses or accepting marriage certificates from gay and lesbian couples. He is the man who hopes to be paving the way for same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )
Montgomery County Register of Wills Bruce Hanes in his Norristown office July 31, 2013, the day after the state Department of Health asked Commonwealth Court to issue an injunction to stop him from issuing any more licenses or accepting marriage certificates from gay and lesbian couples. He is the man who hopes to be paving the way for same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )

The fight over same-sex marriage licenses issued by Montgomery County is not over yet — despite last week's court ruling that barred any further licenses to gay couples.

County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes will appeal the Sept. 12 ruling, according to a statement from the county released Tuesday afternoon.

County Solicitor Ray McGarry will file an appeal on behalf of Hanes, who prior to the ruling in Commonwealth Court last Thursday had issued 174 licenses during a six-week period. Hanes began isssuing licenses to same-sex couples July 24.

"McGarry said the appeal would be filed in the next several days.  He will make no further comment until the appeal is filed," the county said in the statement.

Hanes hinted last week that he would seek to appeal the ruling that went as a victory to Gov. Tom Corbett's administration, which filed a lawsuit seeking to stop Hanes Aug. 1.

"I am obviously disappointed by the Court's decision today," he said. "Several weeks ago when I made the decision to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, I said I believed I was coming down on the right side of history.  After having issued 174 marriage licenses since then and having talked with many of those couples, I am more convinced today that I am on the right side of history."

Hanes is not the only elected official to come out against Pennsylvania's state law mandating marriage as a union strictly between a man and a woman.

State Attorney General Kathleen Kane said in July that she would not defend the state against lawsuits calling into question the legality of Pennsylvania's Marriage Act. The commonwealth is one of 35 states that prohibits same-sex marriage.

She weighed in a short time after the U.S. Supreme Court's recent Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ruling that struck down several provisions of the law. DOMA is the federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The same day the Corbett administration's Department of Health filed a lawsuit against Hanes on Aug. 1, the chief counsel for the Office of General Counsel also sent a letter to Kane's office, stating in part, "The Attorney General's unprecedented public adjudication of the state's alleged unconstitutionality was an improper usurpation of the role of the courts, which at a minimum, causes confusion among those charged with administering the law."

The lawsuit against Hanes and the letter to Kane's office signaled the first blows by the Corbett administration to subdue what could become growing challenges to Pennsylvania's version of the federal DOMA law.

The Health Department lawsuit could become an important precedent to determine whether public officials have the right to interpret the legality of the state's Marriage Law on their own.

Hanes said in announcing he would issue licenses to same-sex couples that he "decided to come down on the right side of history and the law."

Citing equal protection clauses in Article 1 of the state constitution, Hanes said, "Those are provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution which I think are diametrically opposed to the marriage law."

"Now, what am I to do? I took an oath," Hanes said.


Contact Brian X. McCrone at 215-854-2267 or bmccrone@philly.com. Follow @brianxmccrone on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; BreakingNewsDesk@philly.com. Follow @phillynews on Twitter.

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