PHILADELPHIA -- A county clerk defended his decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses in a legal brief Monday that calls Pennsylvania's marriage law "arbitrary and suspect."

About 135 same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses in Montgomery County since Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes decided to issue them last month.

Hanes, a Democrat, argues that Pennsylvania's one-man, one-woman marriage law violates both the state and federal constitutions. He also cites the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

"Pennsylvania's DOMA statute is arbitrary and suspect, and is very similar to the statute which was struck down (by the U.S. Supreme Court)," Hanes said in the brief, filed by the Montgomery County Solicitor's Office.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's administration, through the Health Department, has gone to Commonwealth Court to stop Hanes from issuing the same-sex marriage licenses. The department has argued that Hanes' actions could cause serious harm.

"There is no limit to the administrative and legal chaos that is likely to flow from the clerk's unlawful practice," the administration's lawyers wrote.

However, Hanes said Monday that no specific harm has been identified. He also wants the case moved to the state Supreme Court instead of Commonwealth Court, which hears cases involving state agencies.

Hanes began issuing marriage licenses on July 24 after Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a fellow Democrat, announced she would not defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, because she believes the 1996 state law is unconstitutional.

Montgomery County, an affluent area near Philadelphia, is the state's third-most populous county. Democrats who recently won a majority on the county commission support Hanes' stance.

The Corbett administration has said county officials who flout the law may be guilt of a misdemeanor for each license issued.

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  • Connecticut

    Since November 12, 2008

  • Delaware

    Gay marriage law <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/07/delaware-gay-marriage-law-_n_3232771.html" target="_blank">enacted</a>, weddings to begin July 1.

  • Iowa

    Since April 3, 2009

  • Maine

    In 2012, Maine voted in favor of a ballot amendment to legalize gay marriage.

  • Maryland

    The gay marriage bill was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on March 1, 2012. Opponents later gathered enough signatures to force the issue back onto the ballot in November 2012, but voters rejected the effort against gay marriage.

  • Massachusetts

    Since May 17, 2004

  • Minnesota

    Same-sex marriage bill signed into law in May. Gay marriages will begin in August.

  • New Hampshire

    Since January 1, 2010

  • New York

    Since July 24, 2011

  • Rhode Island

    Bill passed in May. Law takes effect on August 1, 2013.

  • Vermont

    Since September 1, 2009

  • Washington

    On February 13, 2012, Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signed a law allowing same-sex marriage ceremonies to begin on June 7, 2012. The process was delayed by gay marriage opponents who gathered enough signatures to put the issue up to a state vote in November 2012. They voted to approve it on Election Day.

  • Washington D.C.

    Since March 9, 2010

  • California

    The state initially began conducting gay marriages on June 16, 2008. On November 5, 2008, however, California voters passed Proposition 8, which amended the state's constitution to declare marriage as only between a man and a woman. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled against that law, and the state shortly thereafter began sanctioning same-sex nuptials.