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County defies US state’s gay marriage ban

July 24, 2013

NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania (AP) — At least five same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses Wednesday in a U.S. county that is defying its state’s ban on such unions.

The licenses issued in Montgomery County are believed to be the first to same-sex couples in Pennsylvania, the only state in the traditionally more liberal northeastern region without same-sex marriages or civil unions.

Public opinion in the U.S. has been trending in favor of gay marriage, with President Barack Obama speaking in favor of it and a half-dozen states approving in over the past year.

A 1996 Pennsylvania law defines marriage as a civil contract in which a man and a woman take each other as husband and wife, and it says same-sex marriages, even ones entered legally elsewhere, are void.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit this month seeking to overturn the law. The state’s top lawyer, Attorney General Kathleen Kane, has said she will not defend the gay marriage ban, leaving Gov. Tom Corbett and his legal team to defend the lawsuit.

Corbett’s spokesman declined immediate comment.

Officials in the affluent and increasingly Democratic Montgomery County signaled this week that they would grant licenses to same-sex couples.

Alicia Terrizzi and Loreen Bloodgood were the only couple to marry right away.

“We’re not setting out to be pioneers. We don’t think our family is any different than anybody else,” said Terrizzi.

The county officials and the same-sex couples who marry could find themselves in court if Corbett or other state officials challenge their actions. In other states with same-sex marriage bans, licenses issued by defiant local officials have been voided by courts.

The licenses were issued a day after the county’s Register of Wills, D. Bruce Hanes, said he would grant them to gay couples because he wanted to come down “on the right side of history and the law.”

Hanes said he had studied the state constitution and the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act that had denied federal benefits to married gay couples.

“This to me is a fundamental civil right,” Hanes said.

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Associated Press writer Maryclaire Dale contributed.

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