PHILADELPHIA — Officials in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania filed suit on Tuesday against a rogue clerk that recently began issuing marriage licenses to homosexual residents in violation of the law.
The Pennsylvania Health Department, which oversees marriages in the Commonwealth, says that following the Supreme Court ruling striking down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), D. Bruce Hanes, a register of wills in Montgomery County, took it upon himself to begin issuing “marriage” licenses to homosexuals. Since then, Hanes has “repeatedly and continuously” flouted the the law, officials said in court documents.
“There is no limit to the administrative and legal chaos that is likely to flow from the clerk’s unlawful practice of issuing marriage licenses to those who are not permitted under Pennsylvania law to marry,” the complaint stated.
“It is hereby declared to be the strong and longstanding public policy of this Commonwealth that marriage shall be between one man and one woman,” Pennsylvania’s “Marriage Between Persons of the Same Sex” statute outlines. “A marriage between persons of the same sex which was entered into in another state or foreign jurisdiction, even if valid where entered into, shall be void in this Commonwealth.”
But Hanes said that he wanted to “come down on the right side of history and the law,” by issuing the licenses. However, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is now asking a commonwealth court to order Hanes to cease and desist.
In the meanwhile, Governor Tom Corbett’s office indicated today that it will fight to defend the marriage law in court against the ACLU, which challenged the statute earlier this month.
As previously reported, the lawsuit, Whitewood v. Corbett, was filed on July 9th in Harrisburg against several high-ranking government officials, including Corbett and Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Corbett and Kane are polar opposites on the issue.
“Pennsylvania law denies the plaintiff couples and other same-sex couples this fundamental right by denying them access to the state-recognized institution of marriage and refusing to recognize the marriages they entered into in other states,” the legal challenge stated. “The Commonwealth can demonstrate no important interest to justify denying the plaintiff couples this fundamental right. Indeed, it cannot demonstrate that the denial is tailored to any legitimate interest at all.”
Kane announced shortly after receipt of the suit that she would not defend Pennsylvania’s marriage law as she personally believes that homosexuals should be able to get “married.”
“Today, the attorney general chooses to protect all those without high-priced lawyers, all those who suffer discrimination and inequality, those thousands of families who have been denied of the dignity and respect that the constitution protects and guarantees in marriage equality,” she said. “I cannot ethically defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s [ban on homosexual marriage], where I believe it to be wholly unconstitutional.”
However, according to the Associated Press, Corbett’s general counsel, James Schultz, asserted that it was Kane who was instead abandoning the Constitution.
“We are surprised that the attorney general, contrary to her constitutional duty under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, has decided not to defend a Pennsylvania statute lawfully enacted by the General Assembly, merely because of her personal beliefs,” he remarked.
Schultz also sent a letter today to Kane’s Chief of Staff, Adrian King, to advise her that he will defend the law himself.
“The attorney general’s unprecedented public adjudication of the statute’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 and places any lawyer defending the case at a disadvantage from the outset,” he wrote, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Pennsylvania’s marriage law has been in effect since 1996.