Pennsylvania

Democratic State Senator Daylin Leach Officiates Gay Marriages in Pennsylvania

Policy

Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) officiated a marriage ceremony for a lesbian couple on Monday, despite Pennsylvania’s still-standing Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Leach told Media Trackers he planned to perform another ceremony at 5:30 p.m yesterday.

Leach, who is currently running for U.S. Congress in a four-way Democrat primary, joined the ranks of other state and county officials who have said Pennsylvania’s marriage laws are unconstitutional and have therefore ignored them in the wake of the United States v. Windsor decision — a U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down portions of the nation’s Defense of Marriage Act.

Leach is the main sponsor of a same-sex marriage bill and chairman of the LGBT Caucus. Leach, who is Jewish, is also a licensed officiant with Universal Life Church (ULC). ULC offers free online ordinations.

Leach has been ordained for about six years and originally became ordained to officiate his cousin’s wedding. Since then, Leach has performed a few other wedding ceremonies, including one in New York for a gay couple about a year ago.

Leach told Media Trackers that as an ordained minister, his duty is only to make sure the couple getting married has a valid marriage license and not to determine the legality of the license. But Leach added he personally supports Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes’ issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Hanes has held his position as Register of Wills for five years, Leach told Media Trackers, and has never acted contrary to the law. But with the Windsor case — which Leach said made Pennsylvania’s marriage law “constitutionally suspect” — Hanes was merely acting on his oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

“Hanes did what executives do all the time. He read courts decision and interpreted and acted on it,” Leach told Media Trackers.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health petitioned the Commonwealth Court for a writ of mandamus Tuesday calling for Hanes to stop issuing illegal marriage licenses for gay couples. But in a press release, county Solicitor Ray McGarry said they will continue to hand out licenses to same-sex couples.

“While it comes as no surprise that the Corbett Administration has filed an action seeking to enjoin marriage equality in Montgomery County, the petition filed today in Commonwealth Court by the state Department of Health has serious flaws,” the statement reads. “Montgomery County will be filing a response shortly. In the meantime, the Register of Wills office will continue to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”

McGarry, a Democrat, was appointed by the county commissioners in 2011 when Montgomery County elected two Democrats to commissioner seats. Both Democratic commissioners have spoken in support of Hanes, while the lone Republican commissioner has essentially said his hands are tied in the matter.

Hanes has been issuing illegal marriage licenses to gay couples since last week. As of Wednesday morning, 37 same-sex marriage licenses had been issued.

The health department’s petition calls for Hanes to perform his duties pursuant to the Pennsylvania Marriage law, including the provision which states marriage will be between one man and one woman. It also calls for Hanes to cease immediately in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Though county officials hand out marriage licenses, the state health department oversees the issuance of marriage licenses and records marriage license statistics.

“In repeatedly and continuously violating the Marriage Law, the Clerk is acting in contravention of, and is directly and substantially interfering with, the proper performance of the powers, duties and responsibilities that the Law assigns to and imposes upon the Department of Health,” the petition reads.

But Hanes told The Times Herald that he was simply fulfilling his constitutional duty.

“What we have is a law that was passed defining marriage,” he said. “In my opinion, that law is in direct opposition to the Pennsylvania constitution. I think my responsibility is to uphold the constitution and ignore what I consider to be an unconstitutional statute.”

Hanes’ actions come on the heels of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s announcement that she will not defend DOMA in the courts because she believes it to be unconstitutional.

Corbett has been critical of both actions, but this petition is his first public action regarding this issue since Kane’s announcement on July 11.

“Elected officials do not have the ability to choose which laws they are going to enforce and which laws they aren’t going to enforce, but the law is still the law of Pennsylvania,” he said. “It has not been overturned by any decision of the Supreme Court.”

A Corbett representative will defend Pennsylvania’s DOMA in court, but Leach said he has hope the court will strike it down.

“I hope and believe that finally we will have an explicit decision striking down an antiquated (1996) and discriminatory law,” he told Media Trackers.