Same-sex couples married last year in Pa. await state blessing of pre-emptive weddings

 Sasha Ballen and Dee Spagnuolo (far right), were the first couple to receive a marriage certificate issued to a same-sex couple in Pa. (Emma Jacobs/for NewsWorks)

Sasha Ballen and Dee Spagnuolo (far right), were the first couple to receive a marriage certificate issued to a same-sex couple in Pa. (Emma Jacobs/for NewsWorks)

174 couples in Pennsylvania are left with questions about their marital status since a federal judge’s decision last week striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

When the couples received marriage licenses last summer from “rogue” Montgomery County Register of Wills, Bruce Hanes, the state law banning same sex marriage — which a federal judge has just found to be unconstitutional — was still in place.

U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III’s ruling last week did not directly address the validity of their marriages.

Attorney Robert Heim, who has represented a group of the couples in state court, said he believes that “all of them would prefer that this end with a simple agreement between us and the Commonwealth that the marriages are effective as of date that they entered into their marriage license.”

He and attorneys from the ACLU who argued the case decided last week are in conversation with the state’s attorneys.

Jim Schultz, General Counsel for the Corbett Administration, said some next step is necessary to make sure the marriages pass muster with, say, an insurer who doesn’t want to pay benefits to one of the spouses.

“We want to make sure that those folks have the adequate protections necessary and that a court of law is going to bless them and that, going forward, their marriages are not going to be subject to challenge,” Schultz said. “It’s important to this administration that we’re protecting individuals and the general public in following the laws as they stand today.”

County clerk Bruce Hanes issued the marriage licenses last summer because he said he believed the marriage ban was unconstitutional. This week, he said he doesn’t want to issue new licenses to those same couples.

“Now, unless the county or somebody of authority tells me differently, we take the position that you are already married and you can’t have a second marriage license,” he stated.

Unless, he says, a couple experiences one of two ways to terminate a marriage — death or divorce.

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