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Updated: Pennsylvania county official issues same-sex marriage licenses despite state ban on marriage equality

Marriage equality

By Jacob CombsPennsylvania state seal

Updated (1:30 p.m. Eastern): Loreen Bloodgood and Alicia Terrizzi of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, became the first married same-sex couple in the state after being granted a license this morning by D. Bruce Hanes, the Montgomery County-based Times-Herald reports.  A second couple, Sasha Esther Ballen and Diana Lynn Spagnuolo, of Wynnewood, were also granted a license.

“I think we feel equal, for once. I think we feel the same as everybody else and it’s a great feeling. It’s almost indescribable,”  Bloodgood told the paper.

“We think it’s really important to show our children that we are a family and we just like their friends who have moms and dads. It’s important for us to stand up for what we believe in.  We weren’t really planning on being the first people. I thought there was going to be a giant line here. I guess we are kind of trendsetters.”

It remains to be seen how Pennsylvania state officials will react to Hanes’s actions, although it seems quite likely another legal challenge could simmer soon in the state.

Original post (11:00 a.m. Eastern): D. Bruce Hanes, the register of wills in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, announced yesterday that his office was preparing to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite state law limiting marriage to different-sex couples only.  From

“I decided to come down on the right side of history and the law,” D. Bruce Hanes said, announcing that his office would issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

He follows state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who is refusing to defend the state law against a federal lawsuit, and the Obama administration, which declined to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Both Hanes and Kane are Democrats.

Hanes’ decision could have statewide implications, bringing gay and lesbian Pennsylvanians to Norristown for licenses that could then be used for weddings anywhere in the state.

The legality of those licenses would remain in question, however. Under Pennsylvania law, marriage is restricted to one man and one woman.

Hanes’s new stance, according to the article, came through a consultation with lawyers following a lesbian couple’s request for a license.  A press conference for the issuance of the marriage license was planned for late yesterday, but the couple backed out of the plans, according to their attorney, because they were “extremely concerned that the issuance of the marriage license would be challenged on procedural grounds without the courts ever addressing the actual issue of marriage equality.”

Hanes cited the equal protection provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution in support of his decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses, saying, “Those are provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution which I think are diametrically opposed to the marriage law.”

Of course, Hanes is not the first county official to offer same-sex couples marriage licenses in contravention of state laws prohibiting marriage equality.  Then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome set off a media firestorm in 2004 when he ordered a county clerk to issue licenses to same-sex couples; similar events took place later that year in Multnomah County, Oregon and Sandoval County, New Mexico.  All of these licenses were later determined to be legally invalid.

Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a new legal challenge in a Harrisburg district court challenging Pennsylvania’s marriage equality ban.  The case is known as Whitewood v. Corbett.  A few days after the filing, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that she would not be defending the ban in court.  “I cannot ethically defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s (law banning same-sex marriage), where I believe it to be wholly unconstitutional,” she told reporters during a press conference in Philadelphia.  It is likely that Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, will defend the law.


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