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UPDATE - Centre County Reverses Decision on Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

by on May 21, 2014 10:45 AM

UPDATED at 12:05 p.m. Wednesday

Centre County officials said Tuesday night they would not be distributing same-sex marriage licenses - despite a federal court decision issued Tuesday declaring a same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional - but officials are now backing off that decision.

Kim Barton, director of Clerk of Orphans' Court and Register of Wills -- which is an elected position -- told StateCollege.com late Tuesday nothing will change in Centre County based on legal advice and the anticipation that Gov. Tom Corbett will appeal the decision.

"Based on the advice from our state (Register of Wills and Orphans' Court) Association solicitor and local solicitor, we're not going to do anything until the appeal process is over," says Barton. "We're not going to act upon it until we get the go ahead from our legal counsel."

However, after StateCollege.com readers flooded the office with complaints Wednesday, Barton told StateCollege.com that under new legal advice the office will be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

"Today everything has changed. There has been no stay issued. There has been no appeal filed. But really legally we cannot refuse anybody, so we are going to start issuing those," says Barton. "It just all happened so fast yesterday and there are so many things to think about."

Federal Judge John E. Jones III with the U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania declared Tuesday the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Jones says the ban violates the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

"The issue we resolve today is a divisive one. Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage," Jones writes. "However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection."

If the United States was unwilling to do away with unconstitutional laws, America would still be a country that is segregated based on race, Jones says.

"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ask heap of history," Jones writes.

The judge did not issue a stay, which would have prevented the distribution of marriage licenses pending the outcome of an appeal. Corbett's office says the governor is still reviewing the decision and his office will issue a statement once he makes a decision on how to proceed.

Allison Subasic, director of Penn State's LGBTA Student Resource Center, says she was surprised, but excited by Tuesday's court decision. Subasic says even if the court decision is challenged, she believes ultimately same-sex marriage will be legal in Pennsylvania.

"Even if it is challenged in court, it will come out with the right for people to be married in Pennsylvania," Subasic says. 

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference issued a statement this week opposing the decision.

"The Catholic Church teaches that all people are made in the image of God and that everyone has inherent dignity," the group says. "No one should face unjust discrimination. But human experience, considerable social data, as well as our religious convictions, lead us to see clearly that children thrive best in a stable family grounded on the marital union of one man and one woman."

The group says it will further study the judge's decision and hopes the decision will be appealed.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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