Theresa Santai-Gaffney, register of wills and clerk of Orphan’s Court in Schuylkill County, filed a motion of intervention June 6 in Whitewood v. Wolf, filed last summer by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a group of same-sex couples.
On May 20, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones 3d ruled in that case that the state’s ban on marriage equality was unconstitutional. The following day, Gov. Tom Corbett declined to appeal, and Pennsylvania became the 19th state to sanction same-sex marriage.
With no state official taking on the appeal, Santai-Gaffney is now seeking to step in to take the case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Any appeal would need to be filed within 30 days of Jones’ ruling.
Intervenor status can be granted to parties who demonstrate that their intervention is timely, that the party has a sufficient interest in the litigation, that the interest is affected or impaired by the issue at hand and that the interest is not currently represented by an existing party.
The same day she filed her request for intervention, Santai-Gaffney also requested a stay — which, if granted, would halt same-sex marriages — and noted her intention to file the formal appeal.
Santai-Gaffney argued that she has “myriad significantly protectable interests” that would qualify her to become an intervenor, namely that her office issues marriage licenses for the county.
ACLU of Pennsylvania senior staff attorney Mary Catherine Roper said her agency plans to file a motion this week asking Jones to deny Santai-Gaffney’s request.
“I don’t think she’s a proper litigant to try to intervene,” Roper said, noting that intervenor efforts are not rare in cases such as this. “These are pretty common in many of these suits, where people other than government officials — who are actually the ones who make decisions about the law — try to intervene. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t; it really depends on the legal position of the person trying to intervene. But we don’t think she’s the right kind of person to do that.”
James Schneller, president of antigay Philadephia Metro Taskforce, has also been trying to intervene throughout the duration of the Whitewood case, to no avail.
Schuylkill County is located about 50 miles northeast of Harrisburg in the state’s coal region. The county seat is Pottsville.