The mayor of a small town in Pennsylvania has publicly refused to officiate the wedding of a same-sex couple who illegally received their marriage license from nearby Montgomery County. Montgomery has been illegally issuing same-sex marriage licenses throughout the past month.
Republican Larry Keller, mayor of New Hope, Pa., has said in a letter addressed to fellow council members that he would not officiate the marriage of New Hope resident Marcus Saitschenko, 52, and his partner, who obtained their marriage license in nearby Montgomery County.
The county has illegally distributed same-sex marriage licenses to over 130 couples in the past month despite a state ban against same-sex marriage. In the letter, Keller states that he is concerned about legal recourse against his city, located near the New Jersey border on the Delaware River, should he officiate the same-sex marriage. Currently, Montgomery County is facing a lawsuit by the state's governor, Tom Corbett, and the Department of Health for illegally issuing marriage licenses.
Keller states that he does not want to "put New Hope Borough, and myself, at legal risk for breach of my official duties as Mayor" by officiating the wedding.
"I must respectfully decline to officiate a marriage for these licenses issued by the Montgomery County Clerk of Orphans' Court. While I fully respect the desire of these individuals to marry, as mayor, my first obligation is to New Hope Borough. I cannot, in good conscience, put New Hope Borough and myself at legal risk for breach of my official duties as mayor of New Hope Borough until the lawsuits are resolved," Keller adds.
Shortly after Keller's announcement, Democrat Donna Deely, immediately jumped on the chance to try and use the issue to win votes, telling the New Hope Free Press that if she is elected mayor in the upcoming November election, she will officiate same-sex weddings in the city because she believes the risk is minimal and it is the right thing to do.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, New Hope is known to be a city supportive of the LGBT community, passing a series of pro-gay resolutions nearly a decade ago, before many other cities addressed such legislation. Keller has received some backlash from the community, who argue that his recent announcement was purely political and does not reflect his personal stance on same-sex marriage.
Court hearings are to begin next month regarding the lawsuit filed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's office against Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, who for the past month has been issuing same-sex marriage licenses because he claims he personally finds the state ban against same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.
Hanes' decision came after Pennsylvania's Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that she would not be defending the state ban in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to have same-sex marriage legalized in the state. Corbett has reprimanded both Kane and Hanes, saying their decision creates confusion for the courts, and they should allow the judicial process to unfold to determine the constitutionality of a law, instead of taking the issue into their own hands.
"Ours is a government of laws, not one of public officials exercising their will as they believe the law should be or will be," Corbett's lawyers wrote in a legal brief filed against Hanes. The brief added that Hanes' continued illegal issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples could cause "serious, limitless harm."
Corbett's lawyers will lay out their argument against Hanes in a Harrisburg court on Sept. 4.