Pennsylvania judge orders a stop to same-sex marriage licenses

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Bruce Hanes, the Register of Wills in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, has been ordered by Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Pellegrini states that doing so violates the state constitution. 

Hanes, a 66-year-old married father of two, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on July 24, despite the statewide ban on marriage equality. 

Hanes reasoned that since the United States Supreme Court overturned DOMA in June, Pennsylvania’s DOMA laws, which have been in place since 1996, should also be held as unconstitutional.

“I decided to come down on the right side of history and the law,” Hanes said in July. Since then he has issued 174 same-sex marriage licenses. It is not currently clear whether or not the existing marriages will be held as valid by the state.

Pennsylvania’s department of Health filed a lawsuit against Hanes, asserting that he had been “acting in clear derogation of the marriage law.”

The court began hearing arguments for the case on Wednesday, September 4. 

Pellegrini will decide if Hanes acted illegally. Should the court decide in favor of Hanes, it will be a monumental step toward marriage equality in Pennsylvania. However, if the court should fail to side with Hanes, all existing same-sex marriage licenses will be rendered invalid.

Helene Sepulveda, Hane’s second deputy, pegs him as a romantic—a virtue clearly characterized by his Valentine’s Day tradition of presenting each colleague with a red rose. But his decision to stand against Pennsylvania’s anti-equality laws was exceptional.

Even so, Sepulveda says that the office has enjoyed the bliss Hanes bestowed upon same-sex couples by issuing the “illegal” marriage licenses.

“A lot of the couples have said that they waited so long for somebody to do something like this, and they’re grateful,” said Sepulveda.

Hanes stands by his decision, despite the charges against him.

“I don’t see myself as a crusader,” Hanes told NBC news. “Some people have said I’ve broken the law, which I may have done. But I’ve broken an unconstitutional law.” 

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