Who will oppose Montgomery County marriages? UPDATED
July 26th, 2013
There is debate about whether the decision by Montgomery County (Pennsylvania) Clerk Bruce Hanes to issues marriage licenses to same sex couples is civil disobedience or lawlessness and no one know whether they are truly legal or not, but one question seems to me to be even more confusing: who will oppose him?
When I first heard the news I assumed that the Republican elected officials would step in to halt proceedings. But, so far, that doesn’t appear to be happening and even the expected fiery denunciations appear to be limited to a few fringe legislators.
The County’s district attorney decided that opposing Hanes didn’t fall within her job description: (PhillyMag.com)
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman, a Republican, said Wednesday evening that a same-sex marriage license wasn’t legally valid under existing Pennsylvania law but “the remedy for issuing an invalid marriage license does not include intervention by the office of the district attorney.”
“The register of wills cannot change the laws of this commonwealth by simply ignoring them,” Ferman said in a statement. “If that change comes, it will be through Pennsylvania courts or the Legislature.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Katheen Kane, a Democrat, has stated that she will not defend the state’s anti-gay marriage law as she believes it is unconstitutional. And Republican Governor Tom Corbett has, so far, limited his response to a statement from his press officer:
Individual elected officials cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce. All officials are constitutionally required to administer and enforce the laws that are enacted by the Legislature. Only the courts have the power to declare a law to be unconstitutional and to suspend its effects.
But other than tsk-tsking, I can find no evident steps being taken to halt the marriages by those who are empowered to do so. I assume at some point Corbett will make some legal effort or some “family” group will seek to intervene. But I am fairly shocked that marriage licenses have been issued this long without the fierce and angry response that would have been the automatic reaction not so very long ago.
Joining those who say that Mr. Hanes should not be issuing same-sex marriage licenses is the Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphans’ Court Association, which has voted unanimously that they will not follow Hanes’ lead. (Patriot News)
Larry Medaglia, the Berks County Register of Wills, who authored the resolution, said all the members present at conference agreed they would not issue licenses to gay or lesbian couples.
“The only way that is going to change given the resolution and the sentiment in the room and all the discussion is if the Legislature and the governor enact a different law or if the courts should overturn it and mandate a change,” said Medaglia, a former president of the association. “We don’t have the authority to do what Bruce Hanes is doing in Montgomery County. Frankly he doesn’t have the authority to do it.”
Behaving exactly how one would imagine an association of county clerks to behave, the issue of whether same-sex marriage should be legal didn’t arise.
But irrespective of the resolution, they have no authority over Hanes or his decision and will take no steps to compel him to stop.