York County won’t be doing the same, said Brad Jacobs, the county’s register of wills and clerk of orphans’ court. He said he has no authority to issue same-sex marriage licenses unless legislators or the judicial system makes a change.
“Under the oath that I took, … I have to abide by the laws that are currently in existence,” Jacobs said in a phone interview Thursday.
He declined to say whether he personally supports the ban. He said if marriage laws change in Pennsylvania, “I will do what I’m instructed to do at that time.”
The American of Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and allies are challenging a 1996 law that expressly bans same-sex marriage. Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who was named as a defendant in the federal lawsuit, announced earlier this month that she wouldn’t defend the ban.
D. Bruce Hanes, register of wills and clerk of the orphans’ court for Montgomery County, recently announced that he would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At least five same-sex couples got licenses on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
This week, Jacobs, a Republican, has been attending the annual conference of the Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphans’ Court Association of Pennsylvania. Hanes’ decision has been a topic of discussion there, Jacobs said.
Jacobs said members of the association adopted a resolution Wednesday, saying they would abide by current marriage laws. He said they wanted to make a statement for the other counties in Pennsylvania.
Jacobs released his own statement late Wednesday evening. He said:
“In 1996, the Pennsylvania Legislature and Governor enacted a law clarifying that marriage is between one man and one woman. Based upon that law, Pennsylvania Orphans’ Court Clerks are only permitted to issue marriage licenses to heterosexual couples until our law is changed either by legislative action or judicial decision. Presently neither of those things have occurred.
As an elected official sworn to uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution and Laws of this Commonwealth, I have no authority to issue same sex licenses.
My decision offers no position on the underlying subject matter of this very sensitive issue; rather it is intended only to clarify my intent to follow the current law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This is my position, and that of the Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphans’ Court Association of Pennsylvania as affirmed by resolution today.”
Jacobs’ predecessor, Bill Walters, served 16 years.
Walters, of Springettsbury Township, said at least half a dozen times, same-sex couples came to his office and applied for a marriage license.
He said he personally believes that a marriage should be between a man and a woman, but if he were in office, he’d follow whatever the law told him to do.
He was critical of was happening in Montgomery County.
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re breaking the law,” he said. “The law spells it out. Who are you to say, ‘I’m going to change it.’?”
What two commissioners said:
Jacobs and other county row officers are independently elected department heads.
York County President Commissioner Steve Chronister, a Republican, said commissioners don’t have control over their decision making, who they hire and fire, and other actions they take. He said county taxpayers can be affected if their actions lead to litigation.
Chronister declined to say whether he supports the state ban on same sex-marriage.
“We’re all human beings, and I think we have to do what’s right,” he said.
York County Commissioner Doug Hoke, a Democrat, said he has supported civil unions for same-sex couples, but he came short of advocating for the removal of the same-sex marriage ban.
“As a county commissioner, we don’t get into the social issues,” he said, then added, “I believe that things are changing.”
Hoke said does support Jacobs’ decision not to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“I think we have to follow the laws that are on the books,” Hoke said.
He said officials have to look out for how they spend taxpayer dollars. He said they should see how the federal lawsuit plays out.