This Renegade Pennsylvania Official Won't Back Down on Gay Marriage


It's a good day for gay rights in Pennsylvania.

Montgomery County Clerk D. Bruce Hanes, who issued 174 marriage licenses to same-sex couples this summer, is standing firmly behind his decision, saying he'll appeal Judge Pellegrini's order for him to stop issuing licenses.

Whether or not the state upholds Pellegrini's ruling, we have definitely not heard the last about this case. According to lawyers for some of the couples, it's likely there will be other, separate court challenges to the ruling, which included no mention of the validity of the licenses that were already issued this summer.

Since late July, 118 of the license holders have wed. Pellegrini didn't talk specifically about any of those marriages, so it appears safe to assume they'll remain valid.

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D) told The Christian Science Monitor that "[the ruling] said nothing about couples already married, which is at least a victory for those couples and for marriage equality in Pennsylvania."

Additionally, a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania lawsuit to overturn Pennsylvania's version of Defense Of Marriage Act remains on track. Attorney General Kathleen Kane won't defend Pennsylvania in the case. State Rep. Dan Frankel says the lawsuit's quite possibly the "quickest way to full equality" for LGBT folk in the state.

Advocates of same-sex marriage are rallying support – but is it happening quickly enough?

Pittsburgh attorney Sam Hens-Greco, who ran for District 8 City Council last fall, is a longtime supporter of gay rights who's worked on cases of AIDS discrimination. He says although the "landscape has radically changed in Pennsylvania," gay marriage is still a distant reality.

"I think it's going to take a long time," he told me over the phone. Hens-Greco cited the state's lack of a referendum policy as one reason for the delay.

Pennsylvania still lacks a statewide policy against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Some individual jurisdictions do have such anti-discrimination policies, but in Butler County, right outside of Pittsburgh, you can be fired or evicted for being gay.

By issuing licenses to same-sex couples, Hanes raised the bar for public officials in the state, Hens-Greco said.

"All of a sudden, people were saying, 'If this guy in Montgomery County can get married, why can't I?'" he said. "You don't want to be the last elected official on the bus."

He added, "When you have a tolerant society, you have a more healthy society."

Meanwhile, Governor Tom Corbett has some pretty creative attorneys. Last week, after the ruling, they likened gays to 12-year-old children.

Oooh, that's a good one.

Actually, like all adults, grown-up gays are capable of making important life decisions for themselves. Marriage — and divorce. But currently gays who get married in others states and want to split are at a loss.

"The real crime of it is when folks go to dissolve their relationship, and they don't have the court system to rely on," Hens-Greco said.

Couples that are getting divorced usually have some guidelines to abide by, both during the process and after it is complete. Those are inaccessible to gays in Pennsylvania, even if a couple married in New York or another supportive state.

Christine Bryan of the Delta Foundation told Pittsburgh's KDKA News that she thinks the state will eventually be forced to recognize same-sex marriage.

"I think it's going to be odd for people to be recognized in some states but not in others," she said.

We don't know when. We don't know how. But same-sex marriage will eventually come to Pennsylvania thanks in part to Mr. Haynes and his renegade act of conscious, as it will to these other 11 states to watch.

Rain or shine, it'll be a sunny day indeed when it does.