Gay couples wed in 2013 remain in limbo in Montco

Philly.com - Jessica Parks - May 31, 2014

A federal ruling last week legalized same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, and was hailed as an eloquent manifesto on the right to marriage equality. But for more than 100 couples, it didn't go far enough.

Another court battle could be looming, entangling the same county - and the same couples - who helped turn the tide in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Corbett's office announced Wednesday that it won't validate the 174 marriage licenses handed out in Montgomery County last summer - before the federal judge's ruling. Montgomery County, on the other hand, says those marriages are signed, filed, and fully legal.

Joshua Maus, a spokesman for the governor's Office of General Counsel, said getting a new license, dated after the federal ruling, is the only way to ensure that those marriages aren't disputed in the future.

"It doesn't matter what the county says. It doesn't matter what the state says," Maus said. "Without a court's intervention, are these people validly married?"

Five or 10 years from now, for example, attorneys may challenge those licenses to get out of alimony, death benefits, custody, or other benefits afforded to married couples.

"The only way to protect those couples is for Montgomery County to issue new licenses," he said.

Montgomery County has been telling couples that isn't necessary.

"The marriages were recorded," said Montgomery County First Deputy Solicitor Joshua Stein. "We have no intention of changing the dates, or doing anything different with those licenses than we would for the heterosexual couples that got married in that period."

Widener Law professor John G. Culhane said the situation for these couples is so complicated and unusual that it was inevitable that a judge would give the final word. "It's a mess. That's my legal summary. It's a mess," Culhane said.

"If I were the [state] Supreme Court, I would resolve this very quickly," he said. "It really is the humane thing to do for the court to let these couples know where they stand so they can move on with their lives, and do what they need to do."

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