Gay Marriage Ceremonies Conducted in Pennsylvania Against State Law; Mayor Says 'There's No Reason Not To'

The mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania is openly breaking state law by performing same-sex marriage ceremonies in his city, saying the state's governor should lift the legal ban on gay marriage.

Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock, Pa. has said in recent interviews that he will perform the wedding ceremony of any gay couple with a marriage license. The city of Montgomery, Pa., about four miles from Braddock, began issuing gay marriage licenses about two weeks ago, so couples may begin commuting from Montgomery to Braddock for their ceremonies.

"I just think it's time people in Pennsylvania say, [Gov. Tom] Corbett, you know, tear down this law," Fetterman told the local CBS Pittsburg station, adding that he thinks "DOMA is a fundamentally unjust piece of legislation."

"There is no reason on earth not to [perform the marriage ceremonies]," Fetterman added to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. "If a gay couple asks me to marry them, I will if they have a valid license."

Although Fetterman has just begun to perform the same-sex marriages, several couples have traveled to nearby Montgomery County, which is also violating the state ban on gay marriage by issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Frank Custer, a county spokesman, told the Tribune-Review that as of Monday, the county has issued 78 same-sex marriage licenses.

The state's Department of Health recently announced its plans to file a lawsuit against Montgomery County, demanding it immediately stop issuing the unlawful same-sex marriage licenses. The state has until Aug. 12 to file court briefs, while the county has until Aug. 19 to respond.

"Pennsylvania's marriage law is clear. Any confusion or misunderstanding is being generated by public officials who refuse to follow the law," Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett's Office of General Counsel, wrote in an email to the Tribune-Review. "Individual officials cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce or uphold. Only the courts have the power to declare a law to be unconstitutional."

The lawsuit on behalf of the Department of Health, which is filed against Montgomery's register of wills D. Bruce Hanes, argues that "there is no limit to the administrative and legal chaos that is likely to flow from the clerk's unlawful practice of issuing marriage licenses to those who are not permitted under Pennsylvania law to marry."

The legal status of those receiving gay marriage licenses in Montgomery remains unclear, but courts have previously voided gay marriage licenses issued in states where gay marriage is illegal. Montgomery County has vowed to continue issuing same-sex marriage licenses until it is ordered to cease by a court.

In a similar case earlier in July, an Ohio judge ruled to recognize the out-of-state marriage of same-sex couple John Arthur and his partner, Jim Obergefell, so they may be buried next to each other in the state. Ohio holds a 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Pennsylvania is also grappling with a separate lawsuit regarding its 1996 law which defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the state seeking to have the ban on same-sex marriage lifted. Democrat Kathleen Kane, the state's attorney general, has refused to defend the state in the lawsuit, saying that she believed same-sex marriage should be legalized.

"I cannot ethically defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's [law banning same-sex marriage], where I believe it to be wholly unconstitutional," Kane told reporters in July.

Recently, Gov. Tom Corbett's general counsel announced that it will be defending the state's law banning same-sex marriage, saying in a letter to Attorney General Kane that her decision not to defend state law creates "confusion" in the court.

"The Attorney General's unprecedented public adjudication of the state's alleged unconstitutionality was an improper usurpation of the role of the courts, which at a minimum, causes confusion among those charged with administering the law," the letter read.

Corbett has previously expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage. When the state defined marriage as being between one man and one woman in 1996, fewer than 25 legislators out of 240 in the state opposed the new law.

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