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Same-sex marriage license hearing gets heated

Updated: Wednesday, September 4 2013, 05:10 PM CDT
Reported by: Kirk Clyatt

HARRISBURG -- Both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage filed into the Pennsylvania Judicial Center today to listen to the state defend its position that a local official must stop giving out marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

After the hearing was over, the two sides started shouting at each other as members of the press waited to hear from the two legal teams. 

The case was heard by President Judge Dante Pellegrini, who emphasized that he would not be taking on the constitutional issues of same-sex marriage in this case.

In this case, the state is trying to stop Montgomery County Register of WIlls D. Bruce Hanes from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

"We are very proud that Montgomery County is leading this effort," Montgomer County Commissioner Josh Stein said. 

Hanes was not at today's hearing. 

The state argues that Hanes does not have the right to determine on his own what laws are constitutional. The state's action today is trying to get the court to order him to stop issuing the licenses. 

However, attorneys for Montgomery County posed several arguments that could block the state's case against Hanes, including the argument that the case should not be before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court at all.

Montgomery County is arguing that the state was incorrect by using the Department of Health as the agency to file the action against Hanes. 

Those arguments appeared to have traction with Pellegrini, who was very active in judicial discourse. He repeatedly asked the Montgomery County legal team why it didn't take its case directly to the state Supreme Court instead of trying to intervene in this case.

He promised to make a decision "as soon as possible."

Pennsylvania is the exception in the northeast -- the only state not to permit gay marriage or civil unions. 

Michelle Schaeffer, a woman in a same-sex union who received a marriage license from Hanes in Montgomery County, watched the hearings on Wednesday.

"He (the judge) was very fair. He went back and forth between both sides and challenged them," she said. 

"I don't understand how our relationship causes chaos. You know, we're tax-paying citizens just like heterosexual couples that are married. I don't understand why we cause chaos," she added. 

Wendy Shepard, who also received a same-sex marriage license in Montgomery County, said, "I honestly think that argument is a red herring of sorts. I think it's an argument they pull out to detract from the real issue, which is the constitutionality of it.

"It's fear mongering. It's instilling fear in the public. Oh, my God, everybody's going to go rogue and make their own decisions and their own laws. It's fear mongering," she added.
Same-sex marriage license hearing gets heated

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