When lawyers for Pennsylvania likened same-sex marriage to a union between 12-year-olds, Gov. Tom Corbett had to walk back their hurtful comments. Now Corbett has made his own offensive comments about same-sex marriage, comparing it to marriage between a brother and a sister.
Same-sex marriage is not about incest, which is sexual abuse. It’s also not about underage marriage, a comparison that state attorneys trotted out in their effort to stop Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act this summer, Hanes issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of a 1996 state law that defines marriage as a civil contract between a man and a woman.
Since then-Gov. Tom Ridge signed the law to define traditional marriage, times have changed. In March, Ridge joined other Republicans to oppose bans on gay marriage by signing an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case. The Supreme Court then ruled in June that the federal government could not deny benefits to same-sex couples who married in states where same-sex marriage is legal. Pennsylvania is not one of those states, although two Democrats from suburban Philadelphia introduced legislation in the state House last week to legalize same-sex marriage.
When the Pennsylvania Health Department sued Hanes, the state’s attorneys framed their opposition this way: “Had the clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old … is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his ‘license’”?
After intense negative publicity about that illogical example, Corbett relented. “The analogy chosen in the legal brief filed on Aug. 28 is inappropriate,” he said. The true legal issue, Corbett said, was whether a public official could overrule state law. On Sept. 12, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini ordered Hanes to stop issuing licenses.
Corbett should have kept quiet pending appeals of this decision. Instead, he smirked during an interview with Sherry Christian, of WHP-TV in Harrisburg, when Christian mentioned the underage marriage comparison. “It was an inappropriate analogy, you know. I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister. Don’t you?” Corbett said, trying to provoke the TV reporter into a response. After the interview aired Friday, Corbett issued this statement: “My words were not intended to offend anyone. If they did, I apologize.”
Corbett’s “apology” doesn’t remove the sting of his words. Corbett, an attorney, can’t play dumb about what he said or the way he apologized.