By Chris Hoenig
Same-gender marriage isn't like kids getting married, it's more like incest, according to Pennsylvania's governor.
In an interview with Harrisburg TV station WHP, Governor Tom Corbett was asked about state lawyers' comparing gay marriage in a legal brief to two 12-year-olds getting married, with the state arguing that neither can legally marry in the state. "It was an inappropriate analogy, you know," Corbett responded. "I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don't you?"
Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast that does not allow same-gender marriage or civil unions. A suburban Philadelphia town clerk began issuing marriage licenses to LGBT couples in September, claiming he had to because of the federal government's recognition of same-gender marriage. The state sued to stop the practice, bringing the bans—and questions about their constitutionality—into the court system.
"He's just out of touch on this one," said Mark Aronchick, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the court case. "Gay people marry for the same reasons straight people do—to express their love and to declare their commitment before friends and family."
Gay-rights advocates were quick to denounce the comments. "Governor Corbett's statements are shocking and hurtful to thousands of gay and lesbian couples who are doing the hard work of building strong families all across the commonwealth," Equality Pennsylvania, an LGBT-rights group, said in a statement. "Governor Corbett's comments aren't simply offensive; they're out of touch."
Less than 24 hours later, and with the backlash growing, Corbett's office was in crisis-control mode but only backtracking to an extent. "My words were not intended to offend anyone. If they did, I apologize," read a statement from the governor's office. "I explained that current Pennsylvania statute delineates categories of individuals unable to obtain a marriage license. As an example, I cited siblings as one such category, which is clearly defined in state law. My intent was to provide an example of these categories. The constitutional question is now before a federal court and that is the venue in which same-sex couples wishing to legally marry have standing to intervene and be heard. Same-sex marriage is an important issue and the question of its legal status is one that will be heard and decided upon its merits, with respect and compassion shown to all sides."
But while the Republican says the case "will be heard and decided upon its merits," he doesn't believe it should be in federal court. "The Supreme Court left it up to the states to determine under their laws as to what is and isn't a marriage," Corbett said. "The federal court shouldn't even be involved in this. But if they say they are, then they're going to make a determination whether the state has the right to determine that a marriage is only between a man and a woman and not between two individuals of the same sex."
Latest in a Pattern of Hate?
Corbett's comments come as little surprise to some Pennsylvanians, who are getting used to the governor's habit of creating controversy when speaking to the press.
As a gubernatorial candidate in 2010, Corbett said the state's high unemployment rate wasn't due to a lack of jobs, but because people would rather do nothing than work. "The jobs are there. But if we keep extending unemployment, people are just going to sit there," Corbett told Harrisburg radio station WITF. "I've literally had construction companies tell me, 'I can't get people to come back to work. … They say, "I'll come back to work when unemployment runs out."'" Then, in April, Corbett changed his tune, blaming the poor economy on drug users.
"There are many employers that say we're looking for people but can't find anyone who has passed a drug test," he told PAMatters.com. "That's a concern for me because we're having a serious problem with that."
Last year, Corbett defended a bill that forces women seeking an abortion to undergo fetal ultrasounds by telling them to "just close your eyes."
"I don't know how you make anybody watch," he said at a press conference. "You just have to close your eyes ... as long as it's on the exterior, not interior."
Lastly (OK, maybe not lastly—he doesn't face reelection until next year), Corbett told a roundtable hosted by a Spanish-language Philadelphia newspaper that he didn't know of a single Latino serving in his administration.
The governor then added, "If you can find us one [to offer a job to], please let me know."