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New Hope Mayor declines to officiate same-sex wedding

kellerAmid the typical discussions about zoning and amplified music at this week’s borough council meeting in New Hope was mention of an Aug. 16 letter from Mayor Larry Keller to council in which he explained the reasons for his declining the recent request “by two gentlemen to officiate their wedding.”

The letter went on to say, “As part of the official duties of the office of the elected mayor of New Hope Borough, I am permitted by law to  solemnize marriages between persons who produce a marriage license issued by any County Clerk of Orphans’ Court. This authorization is not mandatory. A Mayor is not obligated to officiate any wedding.

“Since mid-July, 2013 the Montgomery County Clerk of Orphans’ Court has been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Montgomery County Clerk of Orphans’ Court has been sued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health over these marriages…and there are other lawsuits pending in Pennsylvania on the constitutionality of same sex marriages.

“Due to these outstanding lawsuits,” the letter continued, “I must respectfully decline to officiate a marriage for these licenses issued by the Montgomery County Clerk of Orphans’ Court. While I fully respect the desire of these individuals to marry, as mayor, my first obligation is to New Hope Borough. I cannot, in good conscience, put New Hope Borough and myself at legal risk for breach of my official duties as mayor of New Hope Borough until the lawsuits are resolved.”

Indeed, a Pennsylvania court will hear arguments next month on Governor Corbett’s move to halt a Montgomery county official from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Corbett says the clerk and others are violating the state’s one-man, one-woman marriage law and has gone to Commonwealth Court via the State Health Department to try and stop Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes from issuing the same-sex marriage licenses.

Hanes has issued licenses to more than 130 same sex-couples since July, saying that Pennsylvania’s marriage law is “arbitrary and suspect.” He began issuing marriage licenses after Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced she would not defend the state’s 1996 law prohibiting same-sex marriage in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union because she believes the law is “unconstitutional.”

Professor of Law at Widener Law School John G. Culhane specializes in the rights of same-sex  couples, and after reading Keller’s letter, sympathized with the difficult balance the mayor apparently must strike between showing respect for the requesting couple and his concern over potential litigation. “Hypothetically, if he were to officiate a wedding involving people who clearly don’t have the capacity to marry, like minors, there could be legal consequences — the marriage could be declared invalid or he could be ordered never again to issue a marriage license — but likely not much beyond that.”

But generally, for a mayor officiating a same-sex wedding, Culhane said, “Is there a risk of serious consequences? Probably no.”

Donna Deely, the Democratic contender for Republican Keller’s job in an election scheduled for this November, took it a step further: “If I am elected mayor I will officiate same-sex weddings. I think the risk there is minimal, and it’s the right thing to do, not only because it reflects the current prevailing legal winds and the country is moving in that direction, but also given New Hope’s rich tradition of acceptance. That’s why we chose to live here, and in my heart of hearts, I think it’s the fair and just thing to do.”

But will officiating gay marriages expose the borough to undue risk? Says Deely, “What that clerk is doing in Montgomery County is civil disobedience, so it must be studied closely to fully understand the potential implications for the borough, but by officiating these weddings, I feel that I would be coming down on the right side. This also could help tourism, when you think of all the B&Bs, restaurants and shops.”

Eric Lee, long-time resident and business owner, said of  Keller potentially officiating same-sex weddings, “He wouldn’t be legally responsible because he’s doing it privately. Larry Keller has been and hopefully will continue to be a supporter of gay causes, and always a friend to the gay community, which is why I don’t understand his position.

“I’ve been voting for him every time he’s run for mayor, and now I’m going to second guess that,” continued Lee.

Countered Keller in an interview, “This is not just about me and my conscience. I support freedom to marry for same sex couples.” Keller says he also  applied “a couple of weeks ago” to be included in the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry website listing, where he is currently not displayed among the 15 Pennsylvania signers.

Keller’s reluctance to engage in activity that may draw litigation seems to be founded in personal experience: he was questioned some years ago during a politically-charged environment about the propriety of the charitable donation of marriage fees he had collected, a charge he defended “at great personal cost.” Keller said he sought the advice of Borough Solicitor T.J. Walsh in this marriage request, who said “You don’t want to touch this. If he [Hanes] did something they said is illegal, you are going to be an accessory to an illegality.”

Said the mayor of the potential for lawsuits stemming from officiating same-sex marriages, “T.J. believes the risk is substantial.”

David S. Cohen, associate professor of law at Drexel University’s Earle Mack School of Law disagreed. “There is no clear decision from any binding court in Pennsylvania or the Federal court about the state’s marriage law, but officials like Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Montgomery County Clerk Hanes both have decided that the marriage law is unconstitutional. As a law professor and one of the attorneys representing same-sex couples in Montgomery County, I agree wholeheartedly,” said Cohen.

“If the mayor doesn’t want to go along with what the Attorney General and Montgomery County Clerk are doing, he will find himself on wrong side of history,” added Cohen.

Said Daniel Brooks, founder and president of New Hope Celebrates, which serves the LGBTA community of New Hope and Bucks County, “My feeling is that the mayor basically doesn’t want the borough to be dragged into same-sex lawsuits pending in Pennsylvania. My recommendation is that he talk to and poll as many people as possible so his decision reflects what constituents really want.”




About the author

Charlie Sahner


  • Just an update on what’s been happening in New Mexico.

    “Egolf said it’s highly unlikely a court would invalidate the recent marriages that have occurred in the past week since the Dona Ana County clerk, without a court order, started issuing licenses to same-sex couples. The practice soon spread. A judge directed the Santa Fe County clerk a few days later to grant licenses and this week a district court judge in Albuquerque declared that it’s unconstitutional to deny a marriage license to gay couples.”


  • In response to the Mayor of New Hope’s failure to officiate at the weddings of same sex couples who have received a marriage license from Montgomery County, I say that I do not have to fight for equality becuase I am equal. I will fight, however, against intolerance. The US Supreme Court has stated in the Wright case recently decide striking down DOMA, that absent a legitimate government purpose, the government may not discriminate. As to the denial of marriage for individuals of the same sex, there is no legitimate purpose. The PA law banning same sex marriage is another badge of intolerance based upon the moral preference of individuals. Such moral preference is not the standard nor is a vote of a majority against the rights or a minority the procedure to be followed. The law is wrong and so is the Mayor of New Hope for failing to stand for equality. This is not a question of dollars whether or not we should pave a street or fix a bridge. This is a question of doing what is right and doing it now. The President of the United States, the PA State General Attorney and Montgomery County got it right and are acting on the basis of equality. If you are not for justice and equality, step aside. On the anniversary of the I have a Dream Speach, it is time to measure a person by his character. Dodging the fight for equality demonstrates a lack of character. Simple and to the point. Character is measured by actions not shallow words. This statement is not an opinion of an individual who has donated hours toward public service. This is a statement concerning the failure of a public official to fight for equality. The word leader identifies a person who leads. At a time of critical decision, someone has chosen the wrong side.

  • So you’re saying that New Hope isn’t a part of the overall fight for equality? That New Hope stands as an isolated town and isn’t responsible for setting any examples…like it has has done in the past? Or like they are doing right now in Montgomery County, or New Mexico?

  • OMG — such ridiculous positions. Kick your own butt and do something yourself … other than running your mouth about what you don’t know. And, BTW – New Hope is not GAY anymore than it is STRAIGHT. New Hope accepts people for who they are … and we live alongside each other, not by power over but power with. Once the gay rights are fully established, I hope people get on with living their lives as human beings … not solely defined by ones sexual preference. peace out.

    • Just to be clear, my questions below are addressed to Laura Matson Hahn in case there are other comments. And let’s not let this thread devole into something that’s not civil.

      BTW…I’m also curious about what you mean by when “the” gay rights are fully established. I’d like to know more about that.

  • I live in Galveston, Texas now but I lived and worked in Montgomery County for many years. What happened to the Gay New Hope that I knew ? I remember The Cartwheel, the Prelude and many gay residents. The clubs and bars may be gone but where are the LGBT people that frequent New Hope ? New Hope has artistic blood that goes back many decades. There’ve been many famous and infamous gays in that crowd and some of them are still around – get out there and give this buffoon a kick in the bushwha – wake him up to reality. Don’t stand in the way of equality Mayor Keller or you’ll end up as past history. Passed -over history.

  • I read about this controversy on another site and was kind of surprised because I always thought of New Hope as a fairly progressive place. Then I read this article and learned your mayor is a Republican. That explains it. He’s just toeing the anti-gay marriage party line. What do you expect?

      • Laura, If calling someone a Republican (who is in fact a Republican) is name calling, then I’m guilty. In my opinion, he’s simply upholding his party’s anti-gay marriage platform. That statement is hardly equivalent to name calling. It’s actually his party’s publicly stated political position. And yes, I consider it highly unprogressive.

  • If he won’t sign, there are plenty of others who will! The Montgomery County Courthouse gave us a list of people brave enough to officiate our marriage license. Rev Ernest Torres in New Hope will! 215-862-2584. Best of luck!!!!

  • Wow – what a mixed response: From rockus to rightous to rationale, all in one thread.
    What is essential to remember is that the mayor does not walk alone. He must work with the council and among they they are responsible for the wellfare of the Boro. Perhaps you should push the boro council to make a stand for civil disobedience, with full knowledge of what that might incur in expenses against the tax rate. Personally, I do not prefer inciting more lawsuits against the boro. We already have enough of those from Zoning and other digruntled places.
    Additionally: Bravo CL Lindsay for a well sculpted, and well balanced argument.
    Boyz: Todd and Ryan – you might want to brush up who is responsible for what – as well as the magnitude of people Mayor Larry engages with on behalf of the town’s welfare. It is not an ACTIVIST Job. It is a Public Welfare and WellBeing Job, boundaried by legal responsibilities and laws. Anyone running for that position must be cognizant of those realities – not just running an issue up a pole (ahem).
    PS: Larry’s an old school republican, when it wasn’t just about money and power over. This negative, unfact founded smearing talk is a bit – juvenile.
    Peace, Out.

    CL Lindsay – I echo all you said, and said so well.
    Todd Sayland:

        • That’s the brand of discrimination gay men have been fighting for years. And with your one comment you have proven it still exists. You’ve also proven that you aren’t capable of civil discussion without insults, so that this comment thread does not devolve into something ugly. I have nothing more to say to you. Rant on as much as you like.

  • I believe in equality for all. I am optimistic that Pennsylvania is close to passing this law. It is about time. In addition, I will vote and continue to support a mayor who heeds the advice of the borough attorney. Larry Keller has worked tirelessly to support gay rights. He cares for and represents all the people of New Hope Borough. I will vote for Larry in November because of his proven service to the community, his generosity of his time, and his passion for New Hope and all its citizens. Mayor Keller has proven himself, time and time again.

  • As I stated last night
    I guarantee Donna Deely will be on the right side of history in supporting same sex marriage. I admire her courage in standing up for her convictions and supporting marriage equality. New Hope Borough Council has led the way on the issue of LGBT rights and it is disappointing that New Hope’s mayor did not use this as his opportunity to do the same.

  • “If you don’t stand for something, you will far for anything” -Malcolm X

    There comes a point in our political lives in which each of us is presented with challenges and opportunities to make choices for the good of society and the welfare of our community. To take a stand, to have your voice heard, in the face of discrimination is what our countries rich tapestry of history is woven with. It is not enough for any of us to say we are against discrimination but afraid of the consequences of our voices being heard. Uniting our voices will force the hand of change and for our Mayor to put his career before the immorality of discrimination out of fear of reprucussions is shameful.

  • Anyone who knows Mayor Keller at all knows that he’s 100% in support of gay marriage. He has worked tirelessly to support both gay people and gay rights since he’s been elected (and long before). Shame on the author of this article (who knows better) for spinning this to make it controversial rather than reflecting the truth of the matter. What was Mayor Keller supposed to do? Montgomery county is issuing marriage licenses illegally and they’re now being sued by the Governors office. Larry was presented with one of those illegal licenses and instead of recklessly dragging New Hope into a lawsuit he consulted the Borough solicitor, who told him that he shouldn’t perform the marriage because it created a legal liability. So he followed New Hope’s lawyer’s advice.

    To Eric Lee who says “He wouldn’t be legally responsible because he’s doing it privately,” you’re flat out wrong. When he acts as mayor he acts as an official of New Hope. So he wouldn’t be doing it “privately”. He’d be opening himself AND the town up to a potentially bankrupting lawsuit. To Donna Deely who says she’d perform marriages, that’s easy to say from the sidelines. And I’m hoping that if you do get elected, and the Borough Solicitor tells you not to do something you’ll listen. I’d hate to have a mayor who goes off half-cocked and disregards pertinent legal advice.

    I grew up here and most of my friends are gay. I, like Larry, am 100% in support of gay rights and gay marriage. And I think the current state of things is a travesty. But I have to say, being angry at Mayor Keller and calling him names (Todd Sayland) is misplaced. Larry is on our side. But as an elected official he can’t go outside of the law and do whatever he wants. That’s one of the burdens of public office. And any who are clamoring for him to do so don’t really know what they’re talking about and likely have another agenda.

    • Your defense is coming from a heteronormative POV, which is understandable. While it’s one thing to be for equality, it’s a completely different thing to be discriminated against in PA because you are LGBTQ. In many ways this is representative of the civil rights movement, and laws that kept good, decent people segregated in some states and not in others. And only those who actually experience that brand of inequality can understand the full magnitude of it. I can provide a list of links and examples where brave people took a stand against laws that promoted inequality, like they are doing right now in Montgomery County, and those people went down on the right side of history.

      • I’m not sure you can paint a straight person into the heteronormative corner that easily. I’ve been on the side of gay rights since long before it was cool. And I certainly don’t subscribe to the belief that sexual relations and marriage are only proper between opposite sexes.

        But I get your point: I’m not gay so I can’t understand. Lets accept that premise for a moment and assume that I’m excluded from comprehending and caring about this issue because I’m straight. What if I apply the same scenario to a cause I can claim ownership of? Gun control for example. I don’t like guns and don’t see why anyone should own anything other than a hunting rifle.

        Now do I expect the Mayor to start busting down New Hope citizens’ doors and seizing their assault rifles and handguns? Absolutely not. I have to admit if I heard he did that I’d smile for a minute. But after a second or two I’d realize it was a stupid move. And then when all the gun owners sued Larry and New Hope I’d be angry at him for a piece of clumsy showmanship that cost the town lots of money and didn’t do a thing to change the law. If I found out he’d been specifically told by the Borough Solicitor not to do it and went ahead anyway, I’d be outright pissed.

        Now I have no idea how to move gun control laws forward. But I know EXACTLY how the gay marriage issue in Pennsylvania is going to be won. And it’s not going to be a rogue county clerk issuing invalid licenses or a small-town mayor performing unrecognized ceremonies. It’s going to be a gay couple that brings a civl lawsuit claiming their constitutional right to marry has been denied. Thats what happened in the supreme court case and I’m sure it’s going to happen here in PA. In fact I’m betting that very lawsuit is already in the works.

        So my question to you (and to Todd Sayland) is, are you a party to one of these lawsuits? The couples that are working within the legal system to get this resolved truly are the brave people taking a stand (to use your phrase). I’m not gay I can’t sue the government in this way. Larry Keller can’t either. Not in his capacity as Mayor or in his personal life. But you, you can.

        And if you’re not a part of one of these lawsuits, how are you criticizing Larry or insinuating that he’s on the wrong side of history? He has always stood shoulder to shoulder with the gay community and used his position to promote equality in every way he is able (also long before it was cool to do so). Further, we all know that performing a same sex marriage based on one of the specious Montgomery County licenses would do nothing to move this cause forward. But you, as a LGBTQ person have the ability via a lawsuit to do something, something that will almost certainly work.

        In other words how do you feel justified in demanding that Larry take risks, personally and on behalf of the borough when you aren’t doing the same? You’re insisting the mayor be an activist while you’re, well, inactive.

        If you like I can provide a list of links that explain how to bring a civil lawsuit and how our legal system works.

    • I did more than just call him a chicken shit. Talking at parades and waving to crowds and all the little things everyone thinks he is so great for, bullshit. It’s all fluff. A real leader would have stood up and said this law is discriminatory and I don’t agree with it. Your comment of him being a great guy and a nice guy. Who cares. We need someone with a backbone. Not just a wave and smile.

      • Exactly. Mr. Lindsay seems to think that we aren’t active enough…in spite of the fact that I have spent my *life* as a published author writing gay fiction. I have experienced everything from death threats to hacking as a result of this. I receive e-mails from people all over the world daily where I have to help them come to terms with being gay. I
        didn’t know that now I’m supposed to take on the duties of an elected public offical.

    • Larry Keller is gay friendly but sorry, I must speak to the impression that the mayor works tirelessly for gay rights. If Mayor Keller had worked tirelessly to support gay rights, he would have made sure hate crimes were being reported to the FBI. He would have established a mayoral LGBT liaison with the police department and worked with the school district on anti-bullying policies.

      The Human Rights Campaign in its 2012 Municipality Equality Index scored New Hope zero out of eighteen points under the category of “Municipality as Law Enforcement” which falls under the mayor’s responsibility. Today, all of the above are in place but the Mayor took no initiatives to make this happen. He might proudly announce that these new policies are now in effect but he had nothing to do with the efforts required to make this possible. We can thank Chief Mike Cummings for his support and efforts in helping to ensure the ABOVE law enforcement policies are in affect.

  • He knows what all of New Hope residents want, since he dined at The Raven last night. His worries of New Hope being sued is unfounded. PA is very close to passing this law. He is just worried about his constituents who give him money. Mayor, consider yourself not being voted for by this resident. Chicken shit!!!!

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