Recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the constiutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and struck down several provisions of the law. DOMA famously defined marriage under federal law as between a man and a woman. Not surprisingly, this decision has sparked debate and action in various states who’s own similar laws are being questioned. Pennsylvania is one such state. The PA Marriage Law also defines marriage as between one man and one woman, preventing same-sex couples from marrying in the Commonweath. Until, now.
Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, of Montgomery County (a Philadelphia suburb) publically stated that he believed the Pennsylvania law was unconstitutional and would not enforce it. As a result, on Wednesday July 23, 2013 Hanes began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples; handing out a total of 5 before the day was over.
It took only a little less than a week for the state to respond. Pennsylvania Department of Health’s chief counsel filed a lawsuit against Hanes for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Asking the court to “comply with the [Pennsylvania] Marriage Law and to direct the Clerk to immediately cease and desist issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.” The suit further states that “[c]ompliance with Pennsylvania law by its public officials is a mandatory obligation. Ours is a government of laws, not one of public officials exercising their will as they believe the law should be or will be.”
Interestingly, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has also spoken out recently about her personal feelings on the law stating that she finds it “unconstitutional.” She is quick to note that this is not based on any rulings or state opinion.
Clearly, we can expect much more in the days to come as we watch whether more licenses will be issued and how the lawsuit will proceed. Regardless, the debate has begun and all eyes will surely be on Pennsylvania as it becomes yet another battleground for the issue of same-sex marriage.