Jacobs
Jacobs

While Montgomery County is going against the state's gay marriage ban by issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, don't look for York County officials to be squeaky wheels on the controversial topic.

Montgomery's register of wills, whose office includes the clerk of orphans' court where licenses are issued, told the Associated Press he went maverick because he wanted to come down on the right side of history and the law.

While that stance might be compatible with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, it defies the 1996 state law defining marriage as a civil contract in which a man and a woman take each other as husband and wife.

It also says Pennsylvania doesn't recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in another state.

Still, five couples in Montgomery were issued licenses, and a couple of lesbians were married - though the marriage isn't legally recognized.

Locally: In York County, Register of Wills Brad Jacobs said he also wanted to be on the right side of the law - the law-abiding side of it - and his office won't issue licenses to gays.

"I have to abide by the (state) constitution and the laws that are currently on the books," Jacobs said Monday.

Jacobs was attending the Pennsylvania Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphans' Court Association's annual conference in Washington, Pa., when the news of the Montgomery County action broke.

"This topic became the main focus of our afternoon session today," he said in a statement released at that time.

Jacobs said his office is 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," he said. "As an elected official sworn to uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution and Laws of this Commonwealth, I have no authority to issue same-sex licenses."

The state association adopted a resolution in response to Montgomery County last week, saying it will abide by current laws, "whereas no act of the Legislature, or any Court of jurisdiction has issued anything to the contrary ..."

"... should the PA Legislature or a Court of Jurisdiction mandate a change to the marriage license law, we shall faithfully and dutifully follow that law," the resolution read.

Since 2000: Jacobs, an elected Republican, said he has been in office since 2000 and doesn't remember a same-sex couple ever "coming to the counter" to apply for a marriage license.

He has fielded calls, though, and he's unable to help because of the state's ban.

Jacobs declined to say where he stands on the issue.

"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," he said.

York County Commissioner Doug Hoke, a Democrat, said he sees this "as a states' rights issue."

"Although, I respect the opinion of my fellow commissioners in Montgomery County on making this decision with an elected row officer, I do not think it would happen in York County," Hoke said.

Social issues are not typically the responsibility of county commissioners, Hoke said. As for the question of same-sex marriage, Hoke said he favors civil unions.

Republican Commissioner Chris Reilly said he believes "traditional marriage is between a man and a woman," and he wouldn't support York's following suit with Montgomery.

- Staff writer Erin James contributed to this report. Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.