Last month, Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes began giving out the first marriage licenses to LGBT couples in Pennsylvania history. Now, the PA Department of Health under the direction of anti-equal rights Republican Governor Tom Corbett is suing Montgomery County to get them to stop, but Montgomery County is fighting them on it. Simultaneously, some mayors around the state are agreeing to perform marriage ceremonies for LGBT couples who have gotten marriage licenses from Montgomery County.
The PA Department of Health filed a lawsuit on July 30th demanding that D. Bruce Hanes immediately cease and desist issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples because doing so violates the state’s marriage equality ban. The next day, Governor Corbett was in Montgomery giving a speech, and referenced the suit, saying quote, “If you want to be the person who determines whether something is constitutional or not, you have to run for the bench, get on the bench — get to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or get placed on the federal court. … That decision is solely in the judicial branch of government. You can have recommendations, you can have opinions, but you have to follow the law. We don’t get to change it. The Legislature gets to change it. That law hasn’t been changed, and that law is the result of the General Assembly elected by the people of Pennsylvania,” according to Donna Rovins of Daily Local News.
Of course, in his remarks Corbett failed to take into account the justification D. Bruce Hanes has given for his actions under current law, which included no less than three sections of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. You can hear that in full here.
Two days after that, Montgomery County filed court papers seeking to dismiss the lawsuit. Carl Hessler of the Pottstown Mercury quoted Montgomery County Solicitor General Raymond McGarry saying, “We believe the department of health doesn’t have the right to challenge this. …We’ve made no determination which of those people has standing, only that the department of health does not have standing. … We do not believe that they can ask the court to enforce an unconstitutional statute. We believe that here, the statute at issue, the marriage act, in particular (Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act), is unconstitutional. … I would request that a court, before issuing an order requiring somebody to comply with a law, at least take some analysis as to whether that law is constitutional.”
On August 12, the state once again asked Montgomery County to stop issuing marriage licenses to LGBT couples, but D. Bruce Hanes refused to back down, and on August 16, passed the milestone of issuing one hundred such licenses. Lawyers for Montgomery County filed their response to the state on August 19, which is 49 pages and cites over 60 cases to back up their defense of Hanes. The case is now scheduled to be put to a judge in Harrisburg on September 4th.
Meanwhile, now that the growing number of LGBT couples with marriage licenses in Pennsylvania is over 100, some progressive mayors around the state have decided to perform marriage ceremonies for LGBT couples with licenses.
Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock, PA performed Allegheny County’s first gay marriage for a couple with a license from Montgomery County on August 5, and has been keeping busy providing the service to more and more LGBT couples ever since. Shortly after, Mayor Elizabeth Goreham of State College, PA was asked by the press if she’d do the same and said she would. She later said State College Borough advised her against it, but still hosted a gay marriage ceremony performed by a local pastor on August 19, and said she’d like to officiate LGBT marriages in the future. Finally, two mayors in Lancaster County, Mayor Philip Kresge of Mountville and Mayor Mary Ginder of Mount Joy, both told Dan Nephin of Lancaster Online that if an LGBT couple came to them with a marriage license from Montgomery County requesting a marriage ceremony, they would be willing to officiate it for them.
As I said when reporting on this last time, until PA’s marriage equality ban is officially off the books, these marriage licenses won’t mean full equality for these couples. But as progressives in a state with some of the most discriminatory policies against LGBT people in the North East United States, I think we should gladly take each small step forward we can get.