Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
A Montgomery County clerk who began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples has been ordered by a state judge to stop the practice.
The ruling states that Bruce Hanes does not have the authority to disregard state law because he deems it to be unconstitutional.
"In this case, a clerk of courts has not been given the discretion to decide that a law whether the statute he or she is charged to enforce is a good idea or bad one, constitutional or not," wrote Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini, in an opinion released Thursday.
The decision dismisses the argument of 32 same-sex couples who received licenses from Hanes and hoped to join the case. Their lawyer, Bob Heim, says the ruling does not render their licenses invalid.
"Since the court did not make a determination that the licenses already issued were invalid and specifically declined to do that our view is that they are valid," Heim said.
Hanes issued 174 marriage licenses to same-sex couples in spite of state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Commonwealth lawyers argue they aren't valid, because were never legally issued to begin with.
Pennsylvania's marriage law is already being challenged in federal court by a group of couples represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. Heim says his clients may join that case, or file their own challenge in state court.
The Montgomery County official at the center of the case made his decision to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in July, shortly after state Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that she would not defend Pennsylvania's gay marriage ban.
Hanes said he is considering the possibility of an appeal.
"Regardless of how my particular case is resolved, I believe the case for marriage equality continues to move forward," Hanes said in a written statement, "and I can only hope that my decision helped that effort."
General Counsel James Schultz, the governor's top lawyer in the office that brought the suit against Hanes, noted his satisfaction with the ruling in a written statement.
"We respect the interests and dignity of all the parties involved in this case, but we are a government of laws," said Schultz, "and it is important that all office holders across the state enforce those laws uniformly."
The Office of General Counsel did not immediately respond to inquiries about the validity of the 174 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by Hanes.
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