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Pennsylvania County Official Can’t Appeal on Gay-Marriage

A Pennsylvania county official can’t appeal a ruling striking down the state’s ban against same-sex unions after the governor declined to do so, a judge said, reiterating his decision that the law was unconstitutional.

Governor Tom Corbett abandoned the defense of the state’s ban on gay marriage last month after U.S. District Judge John E. Jones ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union in a case on behalf of 11 gay couples.

The “deep personal disagreement” with the ruling of Theresa Santai-Gaffney, the Schuylkill County issuer of marriage licenses, doesn’t make her a stand-in for the state, Jones said today. He rejected her request to intervene on its behalf.

“If the highest elected official in the commonwealth chooses to abide by our decision, it defies credulity that we would permit a single citizen to stand in for him to perfect an appeal,” Jones wrote.

James Smith, an attorney for Santai-Gaffney, said a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia was filed within an hour of Jones’s ruling.

“We were prepared for this decision,” Smith said in an e-mail. “We expect the Third Circuit to allow us to intervene. This is an important matter that deserves and appeal.”

Santai-Gaffney, the county register of wills, argued that the decision made the state of marriage law and the scope of her duties unclear.

Not True

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Jones wrote, saying the decision was clarified in a notice issued by the state Department of Health to clerks that handle marriage licenses.

“There is nothing remotely ambiguous about how Santai-Gaffney must perform her duties relative to issuing marriage licenses,” Jones said. “At bottom, we have before us a contrived legal argument by a private citizen who seeks to accomplish what the chief executive of the commonwealth, in his wisdom, has declined to do.”

The case is Whitewood v. Corbett, 13-cv-01861, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg).

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