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Pennsylvania sues to stop gay marriage licenses

July 30, 2013

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Pennsylvania state officials asked a court to stop a rogue county from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on Tuesday.

Pennsylvania is the only northeastern U.S. state without same-sex marriages or civil unions.

The petition filed by the Health Department alleges that D. Bruce Hanes, the register of wills in Montgomery County, “repeatedly and continuously” flouted the law. As of Tuesday afternoon, Hanes’ office had granted 34 licenses and registered six same-sex marriages.

“There is no limit to the administrative and legal chaos that is likely to flow from the clerk’s unlawful practice of issuing marriage licenses to those who are not permitted under Pennsylvania law to marry,” the lawsuit said.

Hanes began issuing licenses to same-sex couples shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage of Act.

At the time, Hanes said he wanted to “come down on the right side of history and the law.” He declined to comment Tuesday on the pending litigation, but county solicitor Ray McGarry said the Health Department’s lawsuit “has serious flaws.” The county will continue to grant licenses to gay couples, McGarry said.

The legal status of the gay marriages registered in Montgomery County is unclear. In other states with same-sex marriage bans, licenses issued by defiant local officials have been voided by courts.

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

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued to have the law overturned.

Recent polls show a majority of state residents favor gay marriage in Pennsylvania, even though bills to legalize it have gone nowhere in recent years in the Legislature.

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