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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett compares gay marriage to incest

October 04, 2013|By Michael Muskal

The governor of Pennsylvania compared same-sex marriage to incest, sparking the latest uproar in the state’s ongoing battle over whether to allow gays to wed.

Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, was interviewed on WHP-TV in Harrisburg, where the anchor asked about a statement his lawyers made in a recent court filing, comparing the marriage of gay couples to the marriage of children because neither can legally wed in the state.

"It was an inappropriate analogy, you know," Corbett said in the interview aired on Friday. "I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don't you?"

The comments, which sparked complaints from the gay community and an eventual apology from the governor, comes as the question of same-sex marriage continues to roil the state, and has led to suits in state and federal courts. Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast that allows neither gay marriage nor civil unions.

"Gov. 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, a rights group, said in a prepared statement. "Gov. Corbett’s comments aren’t simply offensive; they’re out of touch."

Corbett backtracked in a statement issued later on Friday.

“My words were not intended to offend anyone. If they did, I apologize,” the governor stated. He went on to detail what he had meant in answering the question.

“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,” the governor said.

Corbett, a former federal prosecutor and state attorney general, said that he does not think a challenge to the state's ban on same-sex marriage belongs 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.”

Last month, a Pennsylvania court considered whether a municipal clerk in the suburbs of Philadelphia acted properly in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after he decided that he had to do so in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that threw out portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Corbett's administration opposed the clerk. The state court decided the clerk lacked authority to issue such licenses.

A hearing on the federal challenge to the state’s same-sex marriage ban is scheduled for next week.

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