PA Gay Marriage Ruling Expected “Quickly” [Updated]

[Update: 1:43 pm] The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports:

A Commonwealth Court judge said Wednesday he will rule as quickly as possible on a lawsuit by the state that seeks to halt the actions of a county official in southeastern Pennsylvania who has issued 167 marriage licenses to same-sex couples since July.

Judge Dante Pellegrini, a former Pittsburgh city solicitor, asked a number of questions throughout a hearing on the issue but gave no indication what he might do.

“What’s not before us is the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s marriage act,”Pellegrini began the hearing saying. “What is before us in general terms is who decides,” he said.

Of course, this is just the first round of debate: No matter how he rules, Pellegrini’s decision will be appealed up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

[Original: 9:04 am] The Patriot-News reports:

A state court hearing in Harrisburg will address the actions of a suburban Philadelphia court clerk who has been handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples since late July, despite a Pennsylvania law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Oral arguments before Commonwealth Court on Wednesday involve a lawsuit filed by Gov. Tom Corbett’s Health Department against the courthouse official, Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes. By the close of business Tuesday, Hanes had issued 164 licenses, and 98 of them have been completed, returned and filed.

The Health Department wants the court to stop Hanes, an elected official who handles the licenses in his role as orphan’s court clerk.

The event is drawing national coverage. NBC News takes a look:

Hanes, a lawyer and law professor, said he consulted county attorneys before issuing a same-sex marriage license (the lesbian couple who initially sought one from his office, triggering his decision, later chose not to get the license but Hanes decided to follow through with other same-sex applicants). He argues that the state constitution overrides the ban by prohibiting gender discrimination and interference with citizens’ exercise of civil rights.

“Some people have said I’ve broken the law, which I may have done,” said Hanes, while seated in his office surrounded by family photos and Civil War-era paraphernalia, as well as an 1857 newspaper clipping advertising Abraham Lincoln’s legal services. “But I’ve broken an unconstitutional law.”

Mother Jones explains how a loss could enable married gay couples to sue the state over its gay marriage ban:

Even if the Pennsylvania court follows California’s lead, and deems Hanes’ same-sex marriage licenses invalid, same-sex couples could still come away with a win, explains Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, a group that advocates for LGBT equality. If a same-sex couple wants to sue over a marriage license, they need to have what lawyers call standing—the ability to prove they were harmed. “There are circumstances where actions [like Hanes’] create that standing,” Warbelow says.

Manheim, the law professor, thinks it’s possible that federal agencies will recognize Hanes’ same-sex marriages even if the Pennsylvania court rules against him. “The Governor of Pennsylvania is fighting a losing battle,” Manheim says. “The states have lost. Hanes may incur some legal expenses, but he will eventually prevail.”

This is as good a place as any to put in this reminder:

On Tue., Sept. 17, as part of the Constitution Center’s Constitution Day 2013,Philadelphia magazine editor Tom McGrath will be moderating “DOMA and PA: Legal Showdown,” a conversation on the future of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. Panelists will represent both sides of the debate and will include State Rep Brian Sims and attorney Mark Aronchick, co-lead counsel in the federal lawsuit to invalidate Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage act. The discussion is free, but reservations are recommended.

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