by Jenn Miller
Centre County officials said Tuesday night they would not be distributing same-sex marriage licenses — despite a federal court decision issued Tuesday declaring a same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional — but officials are now backing off that decision.
Kim Barton, director of Clerk of Orphans’ Court and Register of Wills — which is an elected position — said late Tuesday nothing will change in Centre County based on legal advice and the anticipation that Gov. Tom Corbett will appeal the decision.
“Based on the advice from our state (Register of Wills and Orphans’ Court) Association solicitor and local solicitor, we’re not going to do anything until the appeal process is over,” says Barton. “We’re not going to act upon it until we get the go ahead from our legal counsel.”
However, officials reversed that decision after citizens flooded the office with complaints. Barton said Wednesday that under new legal advice the office will be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“Today everything has changed. There has been no stay issued. There has been no appeal filed. But really legally we cannot refuse anybody, so we are going to start issuing those,” says Barton. “It just all happened so fast yesterday and there are so many things to think about.”
Federal Judge John E. Jones III with the U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania declared Tuesday the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Jones says the ban violates the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
“The issue we resolve today is a divisive one. Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage,” Jones writes. “However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection.”
If the United States was unwilling to do away with unconstitutional laws, America would still be a country that is segregated based on race, Jones says.
“We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ask heap of history,” Jones writes.
The judge did not issue a stay, which would have prevented the distribution of marriage licenses pending the outcome of an appeal. Corbett’s office says the governor is still reviewing the decision and his office will issue a statement once he makes a decision on how to proceed.