Monday, June 9, 2014

Same sex couples find not all district judges are marrying kind

Posted: Sunday, June 1, 2014 
New Hope Mayor Larry Keller,(center,) officiates his first same-sex marriage of Elio F. Bracco ( left) and Keith David 

The thought of marriage makes some people nervous. But the prospect of applying for a marriage license left one Lower Bucks County man feeling unusually anxious, he said.
After staff at three Lower Bucks area district courts told him they no longer process marriage licenses for the county, he called Penndel District Judge Daniel Baranoski, and staff there told him he could apply for a license there.
Only then did the man, who didn’t want to be identified, tell the staff that he was in a same-sex relationship and asked if that would be a problem, he said.
No problem.
Next came the big question: Did the judge perform same-sex marriage ceremonies?
Yes, he was told. In fact, the staff told him that Baranoski had had his first same-sex wedding scheduled for that day but the couple canceled after finding a minister.
With the traditional summer wedding season approaching, same-sex couples are finding the same hurdles as opposite sex couples when it comes to finding local district judges who perform weddings and what local courts offer marriage license applications.
Montgomery County Administrator Michael R. Kehs said no district court judge has contacted his office to say they will refuse to marry same-sex couples nor has his office received any complaints from anyone saying a judge has refused to marry them.
Most of Bucks County’s district courts said they do perform weddings, according to judges or court staff, and a handful said they’ve already wed same-sex couples — or received wedding requests — since the May 20 federal ruling overturning Pennsylvania’s ban on same sex marriage.
But the days and times individual courts perform weddings can vary widely, and ceremonies outside regular court hours are rare. Many judges also will marry only individuals who live within their judicial district. In some courts, the judge will perform a wedding, but not process a marriage license application.
Court staffs are also altering existing marriage applications — crossing out female or male where necessary — as needed until the revised ones arrive.
In Pennsylvania, district judges are authorized but not required to marry people, but they cannot charge couples for performing nuptials.
Only three Bucks County district judges — Leonard Brown in Bensalem, Robert Roth in Quakertown and Joanne Kline in Bristol Township — stopped performing marriages before the same-sex marriage decision.
But some Pennsylvania district judges have indicated that they’ll stop performing weddings as a result of the ruling, said Pennsylvania Special Courts Judges Association President Frank Peranteau Sr., also a district judge in Bristol and part of Bristol Township.
“There are going to be people who don’t want to do them,” he added.
On the issue, Peranteau has advised that other district judges who don’t want to marry same-sex couples should stop performing marriages.
As for him, Peranteau said he believes performing weddings is “part of our job,” adding he averages about 10 weddings a month.
A representative for Equality PA, one of the groups that challenged the state’s ban on same sex marriage, said she is not aware of any complaints about couples being turned away from district courts since the ban was overturned.
Adding to the confusion locally, though, is apparently conflicting information about which judges perform marriages.
The Lower Bucks groom-to-be, who got his license at Baranoski’s court, said that staff at Judge Robert Wagner Jr.’s court in Bristol Township and Judge John Kelly Jr.’s in Middletown told him the judges did not perform weddings.
But Wagner said he does marry people, though it’s seldom — fewer than 10 a year — and he sets aside only one day a week in the morning before regular court business to do so.
Kelly also marries people, but not often. Since January, the judge has performed 15 marriages, his staff said.
Court staff at Lower Southampton Judge John Waltman’s court also said he doesn’t perform marriages, but the judge said he does.
“The weddings are the best part of the job,” he added.
Staff writers James McGinnis and Peg Gibbons contributed to this story.

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