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D. Bruce Hanes, an elected county clerk in Montgomery County, a suburb of Philadelphia, defied state law by issuing marriage licenses in July after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and an announcement by Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Kathleen Kane, that she would no longer defend the state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Governor Tom Corbett has decided to defend the discriminatory law and a lawsuit was filed by the state Department of Health seeking to stop Hanes. The state has announced the retention of former state Supreme Court Justice William H. Lamb to assist with the constitutional defense of Pennsylvania’s Marriage Law. Said General Counsel James D. Schultz, “Who better than a former Supreme Court Justice and his firm to assist in addressing this type of fundamental question?”
The state filed a brief opposing issuance of marriage licenses, arguing that they hold no “actual value or legitimacy” and thus have no right to be defended in court.
“Had the clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old . . . is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his ‘license’?” the state wrote.
Later, the governor distanced himself from the language contained in the brief. Although he stands by the suit against Hanes, he said the comparison between laws banning same-sex couples and children from marrying was inappropriate.
On Wednesday Corbett’s legal team and Hanes’ attorneys presented arguments in state court in Harrisburg on whether Hanes had the authority to decide what state rules were constitutional and whether to follow them.
Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini said he was not going to decide whether Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban was constitutional, but whether county officials have the power to decide whether a law is unconstitutional.
The answer to that is probably, no. However, this case is the first to chip away at the walls keeping gay Pennsylvanians from having a seat at the adult table.
The Swedish Olympic committee has recently warned athletes to refrain from wearing rainbow flags during Olympic events for fear of being disqualified from the 2014 games. Last week, Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregard and sprinter Moa Hjelmer both wore rainbow colors during competitions as a protest to the recent anti-gay laws that have been enacted by Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia.
The law, signed into effect by Putin last June, imposes significant fines of up to $31,000 for providing information about the LGBT community to minors, holding gay pride events, speaking in defense of gay rights, or equating gay and heterosexual relationships. In a truly egalitarian and internationalist spirit, the bill applies to Russians and foreigners alike, as well as media organizations.
It’s somewhat like the US Army’s former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule, but applied to the entire society, requiring LGBT persons to keep their orientation secret and applying strict punishment if they don’t.
Though this may gain Putin political points at home, he has further darkened the image of his country internationally — at least where human rights are valued. Around the world there is talk of an Olympic boycott and plans for using the event as a stage for political protest.
Robbie Rogers, an openly gay athlete who competed in the 2008 Beijing Games wrote in USA Today, “I hope the International Olympic Committee … will relax the rules forbidding Olympic athletes from wearing a symbol that represents a political statement. On the contrary, encourage athletes attending the Sochi Olympics to wear the rainbow flag, a symbol of gay pride, as a symbol of their support for LGBT athletes everywhere and to show solidarity for gay Russians who are now living under the threat of arrest by a repressive regime.”
While the International Olympic Committee’s rules do not explicitly ban rainbow flags, it’s charter does specify that no political propaganda is to be “permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas” during the 2014 Olympic games at Sochi, Russia.
Rogers also believes that the Sochi Olympics can be remembered as a big step forward for “equal rights for all people everywhere.”
So, will the Sochi Olympics be remembered as a big step forward for equal rights for all people everywhere? Will our straight allies rally in our defense? With the Olympics five months away, it remains to be seen what will happen.
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