Demand for gay-marriage licenses in Pa. is rising

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Plaintiffs Dara Raspberry, left, and Helena Miller, holding daughter Zivah Raspberry, of Philadelphia, are among the speakers during the announcement of a lawsuit seeking to overturn a 17-year-old state law effectively banning same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, the only northeastern state that doesn’t allow it or civil unions, Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at the state Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/PennLive.com, Dan Gleiter)
 

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Demand among same-sex couples for marriage licenses from an eastern Pennsylvania county official flouting state law shows no sign of slacking.

A Montgomery County spokesman said 16 same-sex couples were issued marriage licenses Monday, making it the highest single-day figure yet in the nearly two weeks since county officials began defying a state ban on such unions.

Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock, near Pittsburgh, told KDKA-TV that he performed a Monday night marriage ceremony for two men who were issued a license by Montgomery County. Fetterman called the Pennsylvania law that effectively bans same-sex marriage “a fundamentally unjust piece of legislation.”

As of the close of business Tuesday, a total of 82 same-sex couples had received the licenses from Montgomery County, spokesman Frank Custer said. Of those, 22 have gotten married and filed certificates in the county’s Register of Wills office, Custer said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the state Commonwealth Court said Tuesday it will schedule arguments after briefs are filed on the state Department of Health’s request to stop Montgomery County from issuing the licenses. The state must file its brief by Aug. 12, and the county must file by Aug. 19. No judge has been assigned to the matter yet.

A 1996 law defines marriage as a civil contract in which a man and a woman take each other as husband and wife, and it says same-sex marriages, even if entered legally elsewhere, are void in Pennsylvania. State law does not allow civil unions, making Pennsylvania the only northeastern state that does not allow same-sex marriage or civil unions.

The 1996 law passed with overwhelming majorities in the state Legislature. Most of those lawmakers are no longer serving, and some of the lawmakers who voted for it now belong to the Legislature’s 60-member lesbian- and gay-rights caucus, which supports same-sex marriage.

On July 9, civil rights lawyers filed the first known legal challenge seeking to overturn the state law.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Harrisburg on behalf of 23 men, women and children, also asked a federal judge to prevent state officials from stopping gay couples from getting married. It named five government officials, including Gov. Tom Corbett and Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Kane has said she will not defend the law in court because she believes it to be unconstitutional. Corbett’s office plans to defend the lawsuit.

Lawyers in the case believe it is ultimately bound for the U.S. Supreme Court.

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