Court to limit same-sex hearing in Montgomery County case
HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania court laid out the issues on Thursday to be argued at a hearing in two weeks about a suburban Philadelphia clerk's decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The Commonwealth Court released an order in the case brought by the state Health Department against Montgomery County Orphan's Court Clerk Bruce Hanes, limiting the arguments set for Sept. 4 in Harrisburg to five topics.
The court wants lawyers to focus on whether the court has jurisdiction, given that Hanes is a judicial officer.
Other questions are whether issuing marriage licenses are a judicial act and whether the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's marriage law can be raised as a defense in the case.
Also at issue are whether the Department of Health has standing to sue, and if not, the effect of Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane's delegation of defense of the law to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's legal staff.
A spokesman for Corbett's Office of General Counsel said the court order was under review, and the governor's lawyers will be prepared to present their case at the hearing.
Hanes' office referred questions to a county spokesman, who declined to comment. A court filing by his lawyers this week argued the case should be dismissed or transferred to the state Supreme Court.
Hanes' lawyers said that Kane's decision to let Corbett's lawyers defend a separate federal lawsuit challenging the state's same-sex marriage ban does not mean that they also meet legal requirements to launch the Commonwealth Court case.
“Without some evidence that the attorney general's office has affirmatively elected or refused not to enforce the Marriage Law, the Office of General Counsel lacks any authority to bring the department's petition,” Hanes' lawyers argued.
As of Wednesday, Hanes had issued 140 licenses to same-sex couples, and 72 have recorded marriages.
Hanes began issuing the licenses on July 24, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Kane said she would not defend a state law she considers to be unconstitutional against a challenge filed in federal court July 9.
In a court filing, the Health Department said Hanes' actions would produce chaos and said he and other officials could be subject to misdemeanor charges.
But Hanes' lawyers responded that the Health Department didn't describe what harm might befall the department.
The federal lawsuit remains in the preliminary stages, with a scheduling conference planned for Sept. 30.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Layoffs possible at 5 state system schools, including Edinboro, Clarion
- Pa. road projects safe from feds’ transportation funding delays
- Observers mixed on grid backup amid carbon rules, natural gas uncertainty
- Construction of $500M power plant in South Huntingdon stalled
- Pennsylvania working to correct upgrade to welfare benefit applications
- 2 charged with murder in fatal Philly carjacking
- Corbett, Wolf rush to counter flurry of attack ads
- Upper St. Clair family’s efforts pay off as governor signs Down syndrome education bill
- Home sellers are able to remain mum about violent crimes committed there
- Mom, daughter die from injuries in food truck blast
- Armed doctor’s actions in Philly shooting reinvigorates debate on gun-carry