Just northwest of Philadelphia, something happened this week that's never happened before in Pennsylvania. Gay couples were issued licenses to get married.
The decision was made by Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, the elected official in charge of marriage licenses in Montgomery County. On The Rachel Maddow Show Wednesday night, Hanes explained that they announced licenses would be issued after two women contacted his office last week indicating that they were going to apply for one. He said he talked it over with the county solicitor and Register of Wills solicitor, and they looked at the recent United States v. Windsor Supreme Court case, the recent decision by the Pennsylvania attorney general not to defend the state's gay marriage ban in court, and Pennsylvania's Constitution.
Hanes cited specific sections within the Pennsylvania Constitution that he believes allow for the licenses to be issued:
“Three things really stuck out,” he said. “Article 1, Section 1, a general statement on ‘hey we’re all free and equal individuals and entitled to certain rights and happiness.’ Then Section 26 of the same article gets a little more narrow, and it says, if it’s a civil right, nobody can discriminate against that person from exercising that civil right. And then Section 28, the final section, which sort of crosses the 't,' dots the ‘i’ as far as I’m concerned, and that was 'nobody can be discriminated against on the basis of sex.’”
Pennsylvania has a state law that prohibits marriages between people of the same sex and also declares same-sex marriages from other states “void.”
“When a statute is in opposition to the constitution, I’m going to follow the constitution,” Hanes said. “It’s one thing to talk about this academically, or from a lawyer’s standpoint. You have two folks come in and ask for this recognition of their union. That puts it in an entirely different framework.”
Mayor Gavin Newsom in San Francisco, California, and Mayor Jason West in New Paltz, New York, issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples in their cities in 2004. Like them, Hanes is a public official in a state without marriage equality.
When the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last month, a clear, stark line of inequality was drawn between LGBT people who live in states recognizing gay marriage and people who don’t. On her show Wednesday night, Maddow ran through a collection of other stories about how people living in states that don't recognize gay marriage are pushing forward and still trying to apply for marriage licenses.
“We are living right now through a sea change moment that is not one big sea change all happening at once," she said. "It’s made up of lots of teeny, tiny little drops, that are making this change happen in the whole country based on a lot of very tiny points of pressure. All these pioneers, in all these places across the country, people you never heard of, people doing what they can with their own regular people lives, changing the places where they live. And sometimes it is public officials who are doing it, too, in ways large and small.”