US: Pennsylvania county under 2013 stay finally begins issuing same-sex marriage licences

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A whole week after same-sex marriage became legal in the US state of Pennsylvania, one of the state’s counties has finally begun issuing marriage licences to gay and lesbian couples following a delay caused by a stay issued against its register of wills in 2013.

The Montgomery County register of wills, D Bruce Hanes, who is also the clerk of Orphans Court, said he would begin issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples as of Wednesday, after a suspension, issued during a 2013 lawsuit, was lifted.

Hanes last year issued 174 marriage licences to same-sex couples, saying he wanted to come down “on the right side of history and the law”, before  a ruling was made.

The Department of Health filed a lawsuit against Mr Hanes soon after, saying that the clerk had been “acting in clear derogation of the marriage law,” by issuing the licences to same-sex couples.

He was bound by a stay to not issue more licences, by Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini. He also could not accept back marriage licences from 56 couples who had not yet married.

Following last week’s ruling in a different lawsuit to allow same-sex marriage, Hanes’ office told gay and lesbian couples they would have to wait, or go to other counties to obtain marriage licences.

Dozens of gay and lesbian couples in the US state of Pennsylvania rushed last week to obtain marriage licences, as a judge struck down its same-sex marriage ban.

Pellegrini’s stay was still in effect, and was finally lifted yesterday by the state Supreme Court, allowing Hanes to issue the certificates from Wednesday.

A 1996 state law defined marriage as between one man and one woman, but in a Tuesday ruling, US District Judge John Jones ruled that the ban was unconstitutional.