U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III on Wednesday rejected a Schuylkill County official’s attempt to challenge his May 20 ruling that struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same sex marriage as unconstitutional.
Theresa Santai-Gaffney, clerk of the orphans’ court and Register of Wills, the office that issues marriage licenses, filed a petition to appeal Jones’ ruling about two weeks after it was handed down.
“This court respects Santai-Gaffney’s evidently deep, personal disagreement with our decision to strike down the marriage laws. That said, we lament that she has used her office as a platform to file the motion we dispose of today,” Jones wrote.
“There is nothing remotely ambiguous about how Santai-Gaffney must perform her duties relative to issuing marriage licenses. For her to represent otherwise is wholly disingenuous. At bottom, we have before us a contrived legal argument by a private citizen who seeks to accomplish what the chief executive of the Commonwealth, in his wisdom, has declined to do,” Jones wrote.
Efforts to reach Santai-Gaffney for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday. Her office staff said she will not be available until Monday.
In his 10-page ruling, Jones wrote that Santai-Gaffney did not meet the elements necessary to merit the intervention.
Santai-Gaffney argued that her rights and duties are affected by the ruling because of her “marriage related duties and enforcing the marriage laws.”
Jones cited a 2013 Commonwealth Court ruling, stating that she lacks the right to intervene because her duties must be performed “in a prescribed manner in obedience to the mandate of legal authority and without regard to (her) own judgement or opinion concerning the propriety or impropriety of the act to be performed.”
In other words, Santai-Gaffney’s rights and duties are to comply with current law, and she may not exercise her own judgement when issuing marriage licenses.