What Happens to MontCo Marriage Licenses That Were Already Issued?

The judge made a ruling to stop issuing new licenses, but he didn't say anything about what happens to the ones already handed out.

This afternoon, a judge finally handed down his decision on D. Bruce Hanes’ issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and the outcome was disappointing, but not all that surprising. The gist is that Hanes is violating state law by handing out licenses to queer couples, and that he must stop immediately, but what does that mean for the licenses that were already issued?

I chatted with Robert Heim (pictured, right), an attorney from Dechert in Philadelphia who was representing 32 of the couples in the case — including Dee Spagnuolo and Sasha Ballen, the first couple to receive a license when Hanes began handing them in late July. He reminded me that, while the judge ordered Hanes to stop handing out new licenses, there was no decision on the validity of those already handed out to the 150-plus couples. 

“It comes down to something [the judge] said at the argument, which is whether we want to now bring a declaratory judgement action directly challenging the constitutionality of marriage laws,” which in layman’s terms would be a lawsuit asking him to declare the statute unconstitutional. “From our point of view that’s the important thing. … It’s a draw in effect, because it leaves for a later day the question of whether the PA law is constitutional or not, and we feel confident it is not.”

So will they go ahead with the new case?

“That’s a decision we will make in the next few days,” he says, when the dust settles and he has time to reconvene with his clients.

Stay tuned!

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