Pennsylvania mayor refuses to marry gay couples for fear of being sued

New Hope mayor Larry Keller says he won’t marry gay couples because he fears being sued, since a registrar has been slapped with a civil disobedience lawsuit for granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples without court approval

Pennsylvania mayor refuses to marry gay couples for fear of being sued
25 August 2013

A US mayor won’t conduct any same-sex marriages because according to him, ‘a mayor is not obligated to officiate any wedding’.

New Hope, Pennsylvania mayor Larry Keller said in a letter to city council this week he fears being sued like D. Bruce Hanes, a Montgomery County registrar, who has distributed over 100 marriage licenses to same-sex couples since July.

Hanes’ decision to grant same-sex couples marriage licenses follows Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s announcement that the state’s 1996 law defining marriage between a man and a woman would no longer be upheld.

Despite Kane’s announcement, the 1996 statute has still not been legally overturned.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has since gone to the Commonwealth Court to block Hanes from distributing any more marriages licenses to same-sex couples on account of the ‘legal chaos that is likely to flow from the clerk’s unlawful practice’.

While oral arguments for the case are scheduled for 4 September, Hanes said he hopes his case will go the Supreme Court, calling Pennsylvania’s anti-gay marriage law ‘arbitrary and suspect’ since repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) earlier this year.

‘Due to these outstanding lawsuits, I must respectfully decline to officiate a marriage for these licenses issued by the Montgomery County Clerk of Orphans’ Court,’ wrote Keller in his letter to city council.

‘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’s Democrat opponent Donna Deely took advantage of his letter to say that she is in support of gay marriage, hopefully setting herself apart from the Republican incumbent in November’s upcoming elections.

‘If I am elected mayor I will officiate same-sex weddings. I think the risk there is minimal, and it’s the right thing to do, not only because it reflects the current prevailing legal winds and the country is moving in that direction, but also given New Hope’s rich tradition of acceptance.

‘That’s why we chose to live here, and in my heart of hearts, I think it’s the fair and just thing to do.’

John G. Culhane, Professor of Law at Widener Law School, said that they mayor could potentially be penalized for marrying a couple that isn’t allowed to wed, but the resulting sentence wouldn’t be serious.

Culhane told the New Hope Free Press: ‘Hypothetically, if [Keller] were to officiate a wedding involving people who clearly don’t have the capacity to marry, like minors, there could be legal consequences — the marriage could be declared invalid or he could be ordered never again to issue a marriage license — but likely not much beyond that.

‘Is there a risk of serious consequences? Probably no,’ Culhane added.
 

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