Pennsylvania Judge Dan Pellegrini stopped Philadelphia county clerk D. Bruce Hanes from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Hanes has issued 174 such licenses despite a state law that restricts marriage to one man and one woman, citing the United States Constitution, the US Supreme Court's decision to throw out the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and a statement by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane that the state's same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.
Judge Pellegrini said Hanes did not have the power to decide whether Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban violates the state constitution. It was not immediately clear what Hane's order will mean to those who have already received a marriage license.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania in a separate action is suing in federal court to put a stop to Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban. A similar scenario is playing out in New Mexico, where a county clerk concluded the law did not prevent him from issuing same-sex licenses, and about a half-dozen others in that state have followed suit. (Full story)
Of course Hanes knows a county clerk doesn't have the power to decide the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Hanes also knows he has the power to issue marriage licenses to gay couples-- ordinary people who have suffered the injury and indignity of being defined by law as second class citizens-- which he does as an act of conscience, solidarity, and protest. Simply put: Hanes has had enough.
For an iconoclast willing to take a stand, risk unknown consequences, and turn his limited power against overwhelming authority in a likely futile but deeply meaningful attempt to right a terrible wrong:
The Backbone Award: D. Bruce Hanes