Pa. attorneys: Gays, like children, can't marry

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Marriage licenses given to same-sex couples in the state are invalid because the couples were barred from marrying, just like 12-year-olds, Gov. Tom Corbett's attorneys said Wednesday.

The Corbett administration said its lawsuit filed in July seeking to halt same-sex marriage licenses in Montgomery County "would have no direct effect" on the couples who have already received them.

In a brief Wednesday, state attorneys said those marriage licenses were never valid, and compared gay and lesbian couples to "12-year-olds" who are also barred from marrying under state law.

The state Department of Health and Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes will appear in Commonwealth Court next Wednesday to argue the case.

A 1996 law defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Mr. Hanes and his supporters argue that the law is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Since July 24, Mr. Hanes has issued 154 marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Thirty-two of the couples have petitioned to intervene in the case, arguing that a ruling against Mr. Hanes could also invalidate their marriages.

The state filed a brief Wednesday opposing the couples' participation, arguing that their marriage licenses hold no "actual value or legitimacy" and thus have no right to be defended in court.

"Had the clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old ... is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his 'license'?" the state wrote. If the couples wish to defend their "purported marriage licenses," the state wrote, they should file their own lawsuit or wait for the outcome of a federal challenge to Pennsylvania's marriage law.

"This case is about one thing: whether a local official may willfully disregard a statute based on his personal legal opinion that the statute is unconstitutional," they wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a separate lawsuit to overturn the 1996 state law defining marriage as a civil contract between one man and one woman. State Attorney General Kathleen Kane has declined to defend the law, saying she believes it is unconstitutional.

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