Montgomery County to appeal same-sex marriage halt

Ellen Toplin, right, and Charlene Kurland kiss as they obtain a marriage license at a Montgomery County office despite a state law banning such unions, Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Norristown, Pa. The chairman of the Montgomery County commissioners, Democrat Josh Shapiro, said he supports same-sex marriage and was ready for the county to defend the stance in court. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

September 17, 2013 7:55:49 PM PDT
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court appears to be the next stop for a suburban Philadelphia county's battle to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Montgomery County said Tuesday that its solicitor, Ray McGarry, will appeal a state judge's order stopping a county court clerk from issuing the licenses. He will file the appeal in the next several days on behalf of D. Bruce Hanes, the county's register of wills who maintains that Pennsylvania's 1996 law that says marriage is between a man and a woman is unconstitutional, McGarry said in a statement.

Pennsylvania is the only northeastern state that does not same-sex marriage or civil unions between individuals of the same sex. It also does not recognize same-sex marriages by couples legally married in a jurisdiction that allows it.

The state Health Department under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett took Hanes to court after he began issuing licenses to same-sex couples in July. Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini ruled last week that Hanes had no power to alone decide whether the law is constitutional or not. By that time, Hanes, a Democrat, had issued 174 licenses to same-sex couples.

"The law is clear, as was the court's ruling in this case: Local officials do not have the power or authority to disregard state laws based on their own personal legal opinions," Corbett spokesman Nils Frederiksen said Tuesday.

Montgomery County is the state's third-most-populous and is under Democratic control.

Separately, civil rights lawyers went to federal court July 9 to challenge the 1996 law. Their clients are a widow, 10 couples and one of the couples' two teenage daughters and include four couples who were legally married in other states but whose marriages go unrecognized by Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania's attorney general, Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, has said she will not defend the state law in the case because she believes it to be unconstitutional. That has left the defense of the law to Corbett's office.

Also, a female couple who obtained one of the first same-sex licenses from Hanes this summer and later married have filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court against Corbett arguing that their marriage is permissible under the state constitution and asks the state to recognize their union.