Judge Orders Cessation of Same-Sex Marriage Licenses in Pennsylvania

Last week we talked about issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as civil disobedience in Pennsylvania and New Mexico. Today, there are further developments.

Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini  granted the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s petition to stop Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes from issuing licenses to same-sex couples, which he’d been doing in violation of Pennsylvania’s 1996 marriage law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The opinion, though, doesn’t seem to weigh in on the constitutionality of barring same-sex couples from marriage – it instead focuses on whether one person has the right to decide what is constitutional and what isn’t. According to Judge Pellegrini, one cannot:

“Even if Hanes is correct in his view that portions of the Marriage Law are unconstitutional… unless and until either the General Assembly repeals or suspends the Marriage Law provisions or a court of competent jurisdiction orders that the law is not to be obeyed or enforced, the Marriage Law in its entirety is to be obeyed and enforced by all Commonwealth public officials.”

Hanes has issued 174 marriage licenses up to this point, with four more issued this past Wednesday. I can’t find any information on what will happen to those 174 licenses, but you can be sure I’m checking up on it. Judge Pellegrini said that deciding the legality of those licenses was not the issue before himRobert Heim, the lawyer for some of the couples who obtained marriage licenses, states:

“The 32 couples that I represent are going to have to decide whether they also want to litigate it in the Commonwealth Court, since Judge Pellegrini virtually invited it.”

To be clear, this case is entirely unrelated to the case being brought by the ACLU to challenge the 1996 Marriage Law in federal court.

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. I know it is unlikely, but I would love to see them go to court and win. I wonder, are the marriage licenses they were issued recognized by the states that have legalized same sex marriage?

  2. This state by state cockamamie is totally out of control. Patience, le virtue, whatever, I’m so tired of waiting for all this.

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