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Montco clerk: Violating oath

Defends licenses for gay marriage


- A Montgomery County court clerk who defied the state's ban on same-sex marriage by signing licenses for scores of gay couples urged the state's highest court yesterday to overturn an order that required him to stop.

Lawyers for D. Bruce Hanes, clerk of the Montgomery County Orphans' Court, filed a brief in his appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The state Department of Health took Hanes to court for violating the law after he began issuing licenses to same-sex couples in July. In September, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini ordered him to stop signing the licenses. By then, Hanes had signed 174 licenses.

Hanes said the court order forced him to violate his oath by complying with a law he regards as unconstitutional. He cited the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling that the federal government could not deny benefits to married same-sex couples who live in states that allow same-sex marriage, as well as state Attorney General Kathleen Kane's subsequent refusal to defend the law against a federal court challenge because she considers it unconstitutional.

Hanes also contends that the Health Department lacked legal standing to take him to court.

James Schultz, Gov. Corbett's general counsel, had no immediate comment on the filing, said Schultz's spokesman, Joshua Maus.

Schultz has said the central issue in the case was whether local officials could decide which laws to uphold, based on their own legal opinions. In seeking to stop Hanes from issuing licenses to same-sex couples, the Health Department said his action could cause chaos.

Sixteen states, including every northeastern state, except Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage.

Pennsylvania's marriage law was amended in 1996 to define marriage as a civil contract between "one man and one woman."

At least five other legal challenges to Pennsylvania's law are pending, including a federal lawsuit on the constitutionality of the law that is slated to go to trial June 9 in Harrisburg.

The lawsuit against state officials was filed by civil-rights lawyers on behalf of a widow, 11 couples and one of the couples' two teenage daughters.