Pennsylvania Governor Suing to Block Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

County official issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite state law.

ByABC News
September 5, 2013, 2:55 PM

Sept. 5, 2013— -- Pennsylvania's law banning same-sex marriages will be put to the test in a state court this week as Gov. Tom Corbett tries to uphold and enforce the law against a rogue county official trying to break it.

D. Bruce Hanes, the register of the wills in Montgomery County, a suburb of Philadelphia, began issuing marriage licenses in July after saying the state's law banning same-sex couples from marrying was unconstitutional, according to court documents.

Hanes' actions followed on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and an announcement by Pennsylvania's attorney general, Kathleen Kane, that she would no longer defend the state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Hanes issued more than 160 licenses to gay couples in Montgomery County, and at least one couple, Robert Poley and Nick Vlaisavlijevic, has already married, according to ABC News affiliate WPVI-TV in Philadelphia.

Court documents cited a second couple, Loreen Bloodgood and Alicia Terrizi, who travelled to Hanes' office from Schuykill County to receive a license and proceeded to hold a wedding ceremony immediately after.

"It appears same-sex couples are proceeding with marriage ceremonies that are not permitted by Pennsylvania law, marriage certificates are being illegally filed, and the same-sex couples are left to believe erroneously that they have entered into a valid marriage under the law of Pennsylvania," the state said in its lawsuit.

Gov. Corbett announced last month that if Kane would not defend state law, his administration would instead. The state Health Department then filed the lawsuit seeking to stop Hanes.

Corbett's team said in court papers that gay marriage licenses have no "value or legitimacy" and compared gay couples marrying to the idea of children marrying, saying that both cases were equally illegal because of Pennsylvania's law defining marriage as between and a man and a woman, according to WPVI.

"The case involving Montgomery County revolves around a very basic question: Does a public official have the authority to disregard state law based on his own personal legal opinion about the constitutionality of a statute?" Corbett said.

Corbett's legal team and Hanes' attorneys Wednesday presented arguments in state court in Harrisburg on whether Hanes had the authority to decide what state rules were constitutional and whether to follow them.

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini said he was not going to decide whether Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban was constitutional, but whether county officials have the power to decide whether a law is unconstitutional, according to WPVI.

"What's before us today is generally, 'Who decides?'" Pellegrini said Wednesday.

The state argued that it must ensure marriage registrations are uniformly enforced throughout the state, while Hanes' attorneys argued that the case should be heard in state Supreme Court.

Pellegrini did not say when his decision would be announced.