US: Pennsylvania Health Department says issue of same-sex marriage licences ‘risks causing serious harm’

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The decision by a Pennsylvania county clerk to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples could result in a separation of powers violation which “risks causing serious and limitless harm”, a filing by lawyers for the state Health Department said on Monday.

The latest filing, on behalf of the department as well as Governor Tom Corbett, in the Commonwealth Court added to a legal claim against D Bruce Hanes, the Montgomery County orphan’s court clerk who has so far issued 116 marriage licences to same-sex couples, reports the Associated Press.

“There is no limit to the administrative and legal chaos that is likely to flow from the clerk’s unlawful practice,” the administration’s lawyers wrote.

The filing continued to say that Hanes has a duty which dictates that he should follow the state definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

It also said that any county official flouting the law “may be guilty of a misdemeanour for each act of neglect or refusal.”

Lawyers on behalf of the administration argued that if a law directs officials of the government to do one thing, they cannot disregard that direction because they believe it to be unconstitutional.

The Corbett administration wants a judge to immediately order Hanes to cease issuing the marriage licences.

D Bruce Hanes, the register of wills in Montgomery County in southeast Pennsylvania previously said he wants to come down “on the right side of history and the law”, and agreed to issue a licence on Tuesday to two women who contacted him in July.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned against the weddings, as a lawsuit to have the state’s ban on equal marriage ruled unconstitutional, is currently pending.

The ACLU warned all of the couples that the marriages could be struck down by courts, given the still active ban on same-sex marriages.

The state attorney general Kathleen Kane has said she will not defend the state’s ban on equal marriage, following a lawsuit being filed to challenge the ban.

The ACLU and the Philadelphia law firm Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin and Schiller, filed the complaint earlier this week in the US District Court, in an effort to have the state’s Defense of Marriage Act deemed unconstitutional.


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