It didn’t take long.
Officials at the Pennsylvania Health Department have filed a suit against the Montgomery County Register of Wills, D. Bruce Hanes, to force him to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of Commonwealth law.
Pennsylvania law defines marriage as a civil contract between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriages, even if entered into legally elsewhere, are void in Pennsylvania.
Earlier in July, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by states. If recognized by a state, it is now recognized by the federal government.
Perhaps emboldened by that, along with Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kanes’ refusal to defend the state in a federal lawsuit regarding same-sex marriage, Hanes has issued more than 35 same-sex marriage licenses over the past week or so. A few of the couples have since wed in the state.
Hanes’ way of challenging Pennsylvania’s law is to flout it. In doing so, he is issuing an official county document to people who, under Pennsylvania law, are not permitted to marry. And apparently he’s doing so with the consent of Montgomery County Solicitor Ray McGarry, who thinks the Commonwealth’s suit has serious flaws.
According to a recent story published in the Reading Eagle, polls show a majority of state residents favor gay marriage in Pennsylvania. But bills to legalize it have gone nowhere in recent years in the legislature. If the polls can be believed, then the battle should be in Harrisburg and the question should be, “Why hasn’t the legislature moved on the issue?” Pennsylvania is the only northeastern state without same-sex marriages or civil unions.
Maybe the polls are true; maybe not. For now we in the “key to the Keystone State” have to focus on how much taxpayer money will be spent defending the actions of the Montgomery County Register of Wills. We have the right to ask: If the Register of Wills in most counties in the Commonwealth feels the same way as Hanes, and most county solicitors feels the same way as McGarry, wouldn’t it be better if they all formed a coalition to change the law instead of resting the burden on Montgomery County taxpayers only? And because it’s the state versus a county official, Montgomery County taxpayers get to contribute tax dollars to both sides of the argument.
Sidestepping good old-fashioned legislative work to reach an agreement for the good of your constituents just for the sake of political grandstanding may be good for some, but it is a pain for those who foot the bill. Politicians should never forget that taxpayers vote and they’ve had enough.
State and county budgets continue to shrink when it comes to fixing roads, funding schools or service groups, and many other badly needed items. But there always seems to be enough to pay attorneys to fight court battles that could have been fought on the floors of the state capital or in voting booths throughout the Commonwealth.
As written here last week, don’t break the law; obey it or work to change it. Officials, on both sides of the issue, must stop exposing Pennsylvania taxpayers to more lawsuits that they can’t afford and maybe really don’t want.