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Capitol Police arrest pastor praying for Pennsylvania attorney general

| Friday, July 12, 2013, 4:54 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Friday defended her choice not to support Pennsylvania's law banning same-sex marriage, a decision that brought her national publicity, praise from gay rights advocates and sharp criticism from some state residents.

Kane issued an unusual statement noting her office received “dozens of inquiries” since her announcement on Thursday. By 2:45 p.m., the office logged 86 calls and 50 emails on her decision not to defend the law she considers unconstitutional, said spokesman Dennis Fisher.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others on Tuesday filed suit against the state seeking to overturn Pennsylvania's 1996 law that fails to recognize marriages of gay and lesbian couples legally married in other states. The law defines marriage as a union between “one man and one woman.”

Harry J. Smith, an environmental and health safety manager in Collegeville, Montgomery County, told the Tribune-Review in an email that Kane “should be removed from office.”

“Ms. Kane is using the office and her authority to grandstand her personal opinions,” Smith, 51, asserted. “When Ms. Kane was sworn into office, she promised to support and defend the constitution of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For better or worse, that is her job. One cannot treat the constitution as an á la carte menu, to pick and choose what one likes and dislikes.”

In her defense, Kane said: “I swore an oath that I would obey and defend the constitution. What I did yesterday was simply that: I was obeying the constitution.”

Kane said the Commonwealth Attorney's Act, which created her office, contains a “specific, plainly written” provision granting the attorney general discretion to refer cases. Such referrals occur hundreds of times a year, Kane said.

Former attorneys general said that is common with ordinary lawsuits against the state and state agencies, but not lawsuits defending the constitutionality of a state statute.

A Montgomery County pastor, in an effort to see Kane, was arrested Friday while attempting to ride an elevator to a secure floor where her office is located.

Pastor Wiliam Devlin said he came to pray for Kane, so she would “have a change of heart.” Capitol police cited him for disorderly conduct and carried him out of Strawberry Square, said police spokeswoman Holly Lubart. He'll face a fine for the misdemeanor offense, she said.

Devlin said other pastors plan to come to Kane's office and pray for her.

“The Office of Attorney General was not involved,” Fisher said. “The Capitol police are responsible for safety and security of the area outside our office.”

Kane said some people asked why she won't defend Pennsylvania's marriage act but will defend the state's voter ID law in a trial that begins Monday. The ACLU and others are trying to overturn the law requiring voters to produce photo identification.

“There is a key difference between the two,” Kane said. “The Pennsylvania voter ID law is, on its face, constitutional. My concern with the voter ID law has always been in its implementation.”

The Defense of Marriage Act “is wholly unconstitutional. It cannot be fixed,” Kane said.

Gary Van Horn, president of the board of directors for Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, a gay rights group, said Kane's decision brought lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals “one step closer” to finally being treated as equal citizens.

Kane earned national attention with coverage of her decision in The New York Times, Huffington Post and a feature in The Washington Post blog titled, “Who Is Kathleen Kane?”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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