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Pennsylvania officials sue to halt county’s issuance of marriage licenses, will defend marriage equality ban

Marriage equality

Pennsylvania state seal

As expected–but perhaps later than expected–Pennsylvania officials have asked a state court to order D. Bruce Hanes, the Montgomery County register of wills, to cease issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which he began to do last week.  The AP reports:

The petition filed by the Health Department in Commonwealth Court alleges that D. Bruce Hanes, the register of wills in Montgomery County, “repeatedly and continuously” flouted the law. As of Tuesday afternoon, the county had granted 34 licenses and registered six same-sex marriages.

“There is no limit to the administrative and legal chaos that is likely to flow from the clerk’s unlawful practice of issuing marriage licenses to those who are not permitted under Pennsylvania law to marry,” the lawsuit said.

Hanes declined the AP’s request for comment.  Legal action against the clerk was almost inevitable, given the fact that Hanes’s move contradicts state law and could lead to same-sex couples seeking marital benefits in the future.  It remains to be seen whether the licenses provided by Montgomery County will be allowed to stand or whether they will be invalidated.

In related news, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, announced yesterday that he would defend the state’s marriage laws from a federal court challenge initiated by the ACLU seeking equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.  The day after the suit was filed, the state’s attorney general, Democrat Kathleen Kane, told reporters she would not defend the marriage equality ban in court.

In a letter to Kane’s office yesterday, Corbett’s lawyer wrote that the attorney general’s refusal to defend the ban “establishes a very troubling precedent” and would “create chaos and uncertainty–not unlike what we are seeing in the unlawful actions.”  Corbett’s response to the legal complaint is due September 16.

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