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Judge Considering Arguments in MontCo Same-Sex Marriage Lawsuit

A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge said he would offer a decision as quickly as possible regarding the Pennsylvania Health Department's lawsuit against Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, who began issuing same-sex licenses in July.

A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge said he would offer a decision as quickly as possible regarding the Pennsylvania Health Department's lawsuit against Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, who began issuing same-sex licenses in July.
A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge said he would offer a decision as quickly as possible regarding the Pennsylvania Health Department's lawsuit against Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, who began issuing same-sex licenses in July.

By close of business Tuesday, Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes had issued 164 marriage licenses to gay couples since he announced in late July that he would do so, in defiance of a state ban on same-sex marriages. Of those couples, many of whom are local, 98 have filed duplicates to complete the marriage process.

On Wednesday, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini heard arguments on a lawsuit filed against Hanes by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, asking that he be prevented from issuing the licenses.

Hanes said he found the law to be “unconstitutional” and said he was “on the right side of history” by making the decision. 

According to the health department, “there is no limit to the administrative and legal chaos” that is likely to flow from the “unlawful practice.”

Prior to arguments, it was announced that the points to be debated would be if the Commonwealth Court is the proper jurisdiction to hear the case, if the Health Department has standing to sue Hanes, if Hanes is a judicial officer in his role as register of wills, and if the constitutionality of the act can be used as Hanes’s defense.

"What's before us today is generally, 'Who decides?'" Pellegrini told the full courtroom in Harrisburg prior to oral arguments, according to the Associated Press.

Not included in that list is the constitutionality of the marriage ban, which came up several times during the arguments.  Pellegrini said he “was concerned about the potential effect of his ruling on various levels of government.”

According to the Associated Press, lawyers discussed decisions that other court officials could make similar to Hanes; a sheriff may fid it unconstitutional to deny fun permits to felons, or a zoning officer could believe setback property line rules are unconstitutional.

Pellegrini promised to rule as quickly as possible on the issue.

Check back with Patch for more on this landmark decision.


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