Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett went on local TV news in Harrisburg on Friday to talk about the state's ongoing gay marriage debate, and was asked about his lawyers comparing gay marriage to 12-year-olds getting married. Corbett responded, "It was an inappropriate analogy, you know." So far, so good. But then he went astray: "I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don't you?"
You can watch the reporter struggle to respond at right. Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post has already advised Corbett to "call your office." A few hours after the interview, Corbett issued a statement, saying, "My words were not intended to offend anyone. If they did, I apologize." He was just trying to use an example of people who are ineligible for a marriage license, he says.
Since the 2012 election, the Republican Party has tried to reach out to younger voters by being more open to gay marriage. Corbett's comments were a bit out of step with that. His statement doesn't reflect a new stance on the issue, however. His office sued a Montgomery County clerk in July for illegally issuing at least 34 marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A state judge sided with Corbett in that case, but other legal battles are ongoing. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in the federal challenge to the state's gay marriage ban, which has been on the books since 1996. Pennsylvania's Attorney General Kathleen Kane has refused to defend the ban. Corbett is annoyed by the federal challenge — he continued his interview this morning by stating, "The Supreme Court left it up to the states to determine under their laws as to what is and isn't a marriage. The federal court shouldn't even be involved in this."
Corbett clearly has not gotten the Republican National Committee's 2012 "autopsy" memo, which found that the GOP needs to be friendlier to gays to appeal to young voters. RNC chairman Reince Priebus said at the time, "I think our policies are sound, but I think in many ways the way we communicate can be a real problem." Perhaps Corbett's communication issues will catch up with him — Cillizza rates him as the most vulnerable governor in the country ahead of the 2014 election.
Corbett's full statement:
During a recent interview, I was asked to comment on the ruling by Judge Pellegrini that the Montgomery County Clerk of Courts did not have the power to decide the constitutionality of state laws.
My words were not intended to offend anyone. If they did, I apologize.
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.