HARRISBURG, Pa. - A Pennsylvania judge on Thursday ordered a suburban Philadelphia clerk to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini said Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes did not have the power to decide on his own whether Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban violates the state constitution.
"Unless and until either the General Assembly repeals or suspends the Marriage Law provisions or a court of competent jurisdiction orders that the law is not to be obeyed or enforced, the Marriage Law in its entirety is to be obeyed and enforced by all commonwealth public officials," Pellegrini wrote.
It was not immediately clear what the decision would mean to those who have already received a license.
The state Health Department under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett sued Hanes after he began issuing licenses to same-sex couples in July, despite a 1996 state law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The department argued that Hanes' actions could create chaos.
James Schultz, Corbett's general counsel, issued a statement saying the key issue was whether local officials can decide which laws to uphold or reject, based on their personal legal opinion.
"We respect the interests and dignity of all the parties involved in this case, but we are a government of laws and it is important that all office holders across the state enforce those laws uniformly," Schultz said.
A Montgomery County spokesman said the ruling was being analyzed and they planned to comment later Thursday.
A separate challenge to Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban is pending in federal court.
A lawyer for some of the same-sex couples who obtained licenses from Hanes, Robert Heim, said Pellegrini said the legality of the licenses was not an issue before him.
"The 32 couples that I represent are going to have to decide whether they also want to litigate it in the Commonwealth Court, since Judge Pellegrini virtually invited it," Heim said.
In his opinion, Pellegrini said "there are no obstacles preventing those adversely affected by the provisions of the Marriage Law," such as the 32 couples, "from asserting their own rights in an appropriate forum," and he cited the pending federal lawsuit as an example.