Montgomery County Register of Wills Bruce Hanes has jumped the gun with his recent decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Hanes, like any other elected official in Pennsylvania, is empowered to perform specific duties based on state laws.
And like it or not, Pennsylvania, since 1996, has restricted marriage to one man and one woman and declared same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries to be void.
But Hanes, who believes the state's law conflicts with "inherent rights" and "equality" guaranteed in state's Constitution, recently announced that he would issue licenses to same-sex couples "to come down on the right side of history and the law."
He initiated the practice shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane's announced that she would not defend the state's Marriage Law against an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit.
Last week, the state Department of Health, which processes and tracks marriage licenses, sued Hanes and asked Commonwealth Court for an injunction to keep him from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The state contends that the licenses he's issuing falsely indicate a recognition of marriage.
We urge Commonwealth Court to issue the injunction and allow this debate to continue through the state court system.
Hanes, by concluding that he can issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, is giving himself a judicial role, something the voters didn't authorize.
The law is still the law in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett said in addressing Hanes' action.
"It has not been overturned by any decision of the Supreme Court, nor any decision of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania," Corbett said. "Until such time a court overturns the law, it has to be enforced."
Hanes' action also sets a dangerous precedent in a state with 67 counties, each with the authority to issue marriage licenses.
Rather than weighing the pros and cons of following suit, we recommend counties and their elected officials wait for the state's court system to hear the legal arguments and reach a conclusion.
"Compliance with Pennsylvania law by its public officials is a mandatory obligation," the health department's lawsuit states. "Ours is a government of laws, not one of public officials exercising their will as they believe the law should be or will be."