Montgomery County Opposes Pennsylvania Gay Marriage Ban

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by: Ravi Marfatia, Staff Writer

Gay marriage has always been a hot-button issue in America. The United States Supreme Court recently struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in U.S. v. Windsor, which federally defined marriage “as a union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” Many people might not be aware, however, that Pennsylvania has its own version of DOMA that continues to only recognize marriages between “a man and woman,” and does not even recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions valid in other jurisdictions. It, in fact, is the only northeastern state that maintains this ban.

One Pennsylvania county is rebelling against the state ban on gay marriage. Montgomery County’s Register of Wills, Bruce Hanes, has issued around 174 marriage licenses to same-sex couples in recent weeks. He believes that Pennsylvania’s law violates the Pennsylvania Constitution and the United States Constitution, and cites U.S. v. Windsor to back his position. The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners has offered its support to Mr. Hanes, and the Montgomery County Solicitor’s Office refuses to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the county for Hanes’s clear violation of state law.

Even the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane, has refused to defend the state in any litigation concerning the gay-marriage ban, including a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on July 9, 2013 in federal court. Republican Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, whole-heartedly disagrees with the actions of Hanes and Montgomery County. He filed a lawsuit through the Pennsylvania Health Department against Hanes in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. He believes that the county’s refusal to follow an explicit Pennsylvania law could cause legal chaos within the state.

Earlier this month, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini ruled that Hanes, as Register of Wills of Montgomery County, did not have the power to decide whether the Pennsylvania’s law was unconstitutional or not. The Montgomery County Solicitor, Ray McGarry is going to file an appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s ruling on the matter in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The actions of Montgomery County have certainly polarized the local community, with residents of Norristown petitioning in front of the Montgomery County Courthouse daily advocating for both sides of the issue. This recent rebellious development has raised a key point. Should the issue of marriage recognition be within the authority of individual counties? Time will certainly tell.


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