An initiative campaign to have Arizona voters decide next year whether to legalize gay marriage is faltering amid reluctance by national and local advocacy groups to back the measure.
Volunteers continue to collect signatures but paid signature gatherers have been pulled from the street and a scheduled volunteer training event wasn’t held.
“We’re in a period of kind of continued dormancy. The dormancy has gone on for a few weeks as we have been in negotiation with the local LGBT groups,” campaign co-chair Erin Ogletree Simpson said.
“We need the backing and support of all of the organizations that have been working on these matters to go forward . We need their support,” Simpson said.
However, advocacy groups say the timing isn’t right because the measure would go on the ballot when turnout for a midterm election would be comparatively low compared with a presidential election year, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.
Sheila Kloefkorn, an Arizonan who serves as a national board member of the Human Rights Campaign, said that group won’t support the initiative.
There is increased support in Arizona for gay marriage but not enough to win in 2014, Kloefkorn said. “We will not (support the campaign) and I don’t know of any organization that would at this point.”
Supporters of the initiative measure would need to submit petitions with 259,213 voter signatures by July 3 to qualify it for the 2014 ballot.
The proposed ballot measure, titled the “Equal Marriage Arizona Initiative,” would define marriage as a union of two people, as opposed to the current requirement of one man and one woman.
Approval of the initiative would overturn a ban approved by voters in 2008 as an amendment to the Arizona Constitution.
Two years earlier, Arizona voters narrowly rejected a broader proposal that also would have prohibited the state and its local governments from creating or recognizing any legal status for unmarried persons that was similar to that of marriage.
Pastors and church members gathered at New Hope Church Honolulu, Hawaii on Monday to protest the Freedom to Marry Act, which may pass in a special session this Fall, to make Hawaii the 14th state to legalize gay marriage.
"Same-sex marriage is against the will of God," argued Dennis Sallis, pastor of Hope Church Waliki. "We're just preaching the word of God."
Ripple's fiancé, another Methodist minister, Samuel Cox, was among the first to perform civil unions in Hawaii. He recalled the suicide of a young gay man, whose death reportedly changed Cox's life. "Ever since, I have been a strong advocate for civil rights and marriage equality for our LGBT friends," he said.
Hawaii began struggling with the issue of same-sex marriage in the early '90s, when three same-sex couples sued for marriage licenses in the 1991 case Baehr v. Miike. Following a Hawaii constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to outlaw gay marriage, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled against the couples in 1999. In February 2011, however, the current governor, Niel Abercrombie, signed a new law allowing civil unions, which came into effect on January 1, 2012.
"Over just the last six months, opposition has dropped by 6 percent which means people are really starting to understand what the issue is about…welcoming others and treating them with respect," explained State Representative Chris Lee. He also argued that legalizing gay marriage would bring money into Hawaii's economy, as more people pay for weddings and receptions in the state.
"People with same-sex attraction are a part of our community, even our Catholic community, and they deserve dignity and respect," he explained. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church only allows marriage between one man and one woman.
The bishop argued that if same-sex marriage is made legal, polygamy, incest, and pedophilia would follow, various faiths would suffer legal persecution, and children would receive substandard care. For these reasons, discrimination against same-sex couples is just, as it between adults and minors, parents and children, professors and students. All people have equal dignity, but in society different people have different roles, and are treated accordingly, he contends.
"If same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, its implications will go far beyond the relationship of this or that couple," Silva warned. Besides gay marriage, other sexual preferences will also become "normal" in Hawaii. School textbooks will be bound by law to portray various options, and this will confuse the "normal sexual maturation" of boys and girls, as their sexual identity is "formed over time."
Silva wondered if, once same-sex marriage is normalized, discrimination against those who want to marry their mother or father, brother or sister, or a minor, must also be struck down.
"Would people who firmly believe that God made us male and female, and that God has revealed that homosexual acts are sinful be allowed to hold such beliefs?" the bishop asked. He warned that Christians, Muslims, and others who share these beliefs would be persecuted, and religious freedom would become "only a paper freedom."
August 22, 2013: Happy newlyweds join hands at the Doña Ana County Government Center after receiving their marriage licenses and wedding in Las Cruces, N.M. The married couples include, from left: Erin Haynes and spouse Cynthia Haynes of Los Lunas, N.M.; Rev. Vangie Chavez and spouse Traci Garcia of Albuquerque, N.M.; Richard Sunman and spouse Thom Hinks of Albuquerque, N.M.; and Judi Schultz and spouse June Damuth of Las Cruces, N.M. (AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Shari Vialpando-Hill)
The clerk for New Mexico's most populous county planned to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples Tuesday after a state district judge declared same-sex marriage legal.
State District Judge Alan Malott on Monday ruled New Mexico's constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, ordering Bernalillo County to join the state's other two population centers in recognizing the unions.
The decision comes on the heels of an order last week from a judge in Santa Fe that directed the county clerk there to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That followed a decision by the clerk in the southern New Mexico county of Dona Ana to recognize same-sex couples.
But Malott's ruling was seen as more sweeping than the temporary Santa Fe order because he directly declared that gay marriage was legal.
Laura Schauer Ives, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, called it "monumental" and said the group didn't expect such a broad decision by Malott. The judge had been asked only to order that the state recognize, on her death certificate, a dying woman's marriage Friday in Santa Fe to her longtime partner.
But after a short hearing in which neither the counties nor the state objected to the request, Malott also ruled on the broader lawsuit by that couple and five others seeking marriage licenses.
"We were stunned and amazed," Ives said.
However, it's uncertain whether clerks in the state's 30 other counties, who were not defendants in the lawsuit, will use the judge's ruling as a signal that they can issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Assistant Attorney General Scott Fuqua said the decision wasn't binding on clerks outside Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties.
Malott's order came during a hearing seeking an order for the state to recognize the marriage of Jen Roper, who has cancer, to Angelique Neuman.
The couple wed at a Santa Fe hospital after a state district judge in a separate case ordered the Santa Fe County clerk to issue same-sex licenses. Dona Ana's clerk decided on his own last week to recognize gay and lesbian marriages.
"It's been a long, long fight," Neuman said. "I'm glad things went our way."
The couple last week joined the lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of five other lesbian couples.
One of those couples, Tanya Struble and Therese Councilor of Jemez Springs, said they plan to get their marriage license first thing Tuesday. But they were unsure whether they would be married immediately or wait for a ceremony that can be attended by family and friends.
"We've never done this," Struble said in an interview after the court hearing.
Struble said she was pleasantly surprised by the broader ruling in the case.
"I thought maybe it would be partially good, but it was 99.9 percent awesome," she said.
Christine Butler of Albuquerque, who opposes gay marriage and attended the hearing, said the judge's ruling violates her rights.
"I don't want to bring my children or go to places and see same-sex couples showing a lot of affection. ... That's against God's law," Butler said.
Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she had 1,000 licenses printed in case Malott ordered her to issue licenses for same-sex marriages. Her office spent the day preparing for what is expected to be a flood of applicants Tuesday.
On Monday morning, couples were lined up in Santa Fe waiting for the clerk's office to open. More than 100 licenses had been issued by the end of the day, bringing to 157 the number of same-sex marriage licenses issued since Friday.
Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples last Wednesday. He said 137 couples from around the state and from neighboring Texas got licenses last week, and more were in the works Monday.
A group of Republican legislators is planning to file a lawsuit to stop clerks from issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
One of those lawmakers, Sen. William Sharer of Farmington, said it is up to the state's Legislature, with the consent of the governor, to make laws -- not its county clerks or district judges.
"It is inexplicable how a district court just today discovered a new definition of marriage in our laws, when our marriage law has not been changed in over a century," Sharer said.
SANTA FE, NM, August 22, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Supreme Court of New Mexico has ruled that Christian photographers do not have the right to decline photographing a gay “wedding,” even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Richard C. Bosson said Christians must “compromise” their religious beliefs as “the price of citizenship.”
The high court ruled that Elaine Huguenin and her husband, Jon, violated a lesbian couple's human rights by refusing to photograph their “commitment ceremony.”
Elaine Huguenin must "compromise," according to Justice Bosson.
When their business, Elane Photography, “refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA [New Mexico Human Rights Act] in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races,” the majority opinion states.
The NMHRA, justices noted, protects discrimination “against protected classes of people.”
The case began in 2006, when Vanessa Willock approached the Albuquerque-based business to take pictures of her ceremony with girlfriend Misti Collinsworth and was politely declined. She found another photographer for the event but pursued legal action anyway.
The family got legal assistance from the Alliance Defending Freedom and appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.
The Huguenins argued they did not discriminate against homosexuals but “did not want to convey through [Huguenin]’s pictures the story of an event celebrating an understanding of marriage that conflicts with [the owners’] beliefs.”
They added that they “would have declined the request even if the ceremony was part of a movie and the actors playing the same-sex couple were heterosexual.”
They also said they would not photograph homosexual actions in any way.
The justices ruled, however, there was no distinction between homosexual acts and homosexual people.
As long as the business does wedding photos, it must photograph any such ceremony, they said, although New Mexico does not allow same-sex “marriages.”
Justices added that Christian business owners could avoid legal trouble only by refusing to photograph weddings altogether. "The NMHRA does not mandate that Elane Photography choose to take wedding pictures,” they wrote, “that is the exclusive choice of Elane Photography."
Their ruling flies in the face of the opinion of the overwhelming majority of Americans. A recent Rasmussen poll found that 85 percent of Americans believe business owners should be able to opt out of participating in a homosexual “marriage.”
The concurring opinion filed by Justice Bosson is receiving even greater attention than the main opinion.
The Huguenins, he wrote, “are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.” The ruling “will no doubt leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.”
The homosexual discrimination case defines “what this nation is all about, its promise of fairness, liberty, equality of opportunity, and justice," he said.
“At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others,” he wrote. “A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less.”
The forced compromising of religious principles, he wrote, is “the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people.”
The Huguenins' lawyer, ADF Senior Counself Jordan Lorence, called the ruling and its concurrence a “chilling and unprecedented attack on freedom.”
“Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country,” he said.
“Jim Crow is alive and well and living at the New Mexico Supreme Court, and Christian is the new black,” Bryan Fischer said on his AFR Talk program “Focal Point” this afternoon.
Ken Klukowski, director pf the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, agreed the rulings were “profoundly disturbing” and discriminated against everyone who holds “traditional and orthodox Christian beliefs.”
He said the decision should draw Americans' attention to “the serious threat to religious liberty posed by overbearing government agencies when it comes to redefining marriage. Rather than live-and-let-live, this is forcing religious Americans to violate the basic teachings of their faith, or lose their jobs.”
“This decision would stun the Framers of the U.S. Constitution [and] is a gross violation of the First Amendment,” he said.
Lorence said that “America was founded on the fundamental freedom of every citizen to live and work according to their beliefs and not to be compelled by the government to express ideas and messages they decline to support."
He added that he and the Huguenins are considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kuklowski said he hopes the case goes forward to affirm that Americans enjoy the free exercise of their religion, not merely the freedom of worship.
The decision “should now be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm the basic principle that the fundamental rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion do not stop at the exit door of your local church, and instead extend to every area of a religious person's life,” he said.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
By Reid Wilson, Published: August 20 at 8:57 am
Rev. Irene Matsumoto of Palolo Kwannon Temple signs a resolution supporting gay marriage at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu in Honolulu on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013. More than two dozen Hawaii faith leaders of various religions signed a resolution Monday calling the state to pass a law legalizing gay marriage. (AP/Oskar Garcia)
Hawaii state House Democrats will meet this week to gauge whether they can come up with the votes to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.
If there is sufficient support, and if legislative leaders can agree on language that would withstand court challenges, Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) will call a special session to deal with the issue this fall. Abercrombie told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser he thinks it’s “very likely” there will be a special session.
“I think we can put together something that can achieve a solid majority, that will give us the opportunity to establish marriage equity in the state of Hawaii commensurate with the recent Supreme Court decisions, and will satisfy and resolve the issues that are presently before the appeals court on the mainland,” Abercrombie told a gathering of state Democrats.
Abercrombie’s chief of staff, Blake Oshiro, is working on language with the state attorney general’s office, the Star-Advertiserreported Monday. State Senate leadership says they have the votes to pass a same-sex marriage bill.
Democrats have overwhelming majorities in both legislative chambers; they control the House by a 44-7 margin, and they hold 24 of 25 seats in the Senate. But the legislature has to rely on Abercrombie to call a special session because they can’t meet the two-thirds threshold to call one themselves.
Hawaii passed a constitutional amendment giving the legislature power to define marriage as a heterosexual union in 1998, but the legislature partially reversed itself in 2011, legalizing civil unions between same-sex couples.
South Carolina’s constitutional ban on gay marriage could be headed to court in the coming years.
SC Equality, the gay-rights advocacy group, has started a volunteer legal team to “explore options” for same-sex couples living in South Carolina now that the U.S. Supreme court has ordered the federal government to treat homosexual couples the same as heterosexual couples. South Carolina is one of the top states in the country where same-sex couples identify themselves as husbands or wives, according to the U.S. Census.
Columbia attorney Malissa Burnette is leading the effort. She says the group is “proceeding very carefully” at first, focusing on individual cases. But the ultimate goal, she said, is to overturn South Carolina’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, which voters approved in 2006.
“I’m very optimistic that it’s been seven, nearly eight years now, and I believe that even in South Carolina, people have become more aware that in their families, in their neighborhoods and in their workplace, there are gay and lesbian people that they see and speak with everyday, and that’s OK,” she said. “People are beginning to accept that more readily than they did in 2006.”
But the Palmetto Family Council has its own legal team ready to counter any effort to overturn the amendment.
Director Oran Smith says he relies on a statewide network of attorneys trained by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a national legal group that, according to its website, is devoted to “religious liberty, the sanctity of life and marriage and family.”
Smith said he does not think his group would intervene in specific cases of same-sex couples seeking federal benefits. But it would intervene if “we saw a pattern of the courts not respecting the marriage amendment in South Carolina.”
“We would certainly want to assess whether we would want to become involved on an individual case by case basis,” Smith said. “Hopefully we would not need to do that.”
The 2006 amendment passed with 78 percent of the vote. In December, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found 62 percent of South Carolina voters said same-sex marriage should not be allowed, while 27 percent said it should be allowed (10 percent were not sure).
According to the U.S. Census, 7,214 same-sex couples live in South Carolina, or 4.01 couples per 1,000 households – ranked 38th in the country. Vermont was the No. 1 state, with 8.36 couples per 1,000 households.
But 22 percent of South Carolina’s same-sex couples identify themselves as husbands or wives, the 16th-highest percentage of the country. Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, is No. 1 with 44 percent.
Burdette said there are 1,100 places in federal law where a protection or responsibility is based on marital status. She said federal agencies traditionally have deferred to state laws to determine whether a marriage is valid. So if a couple is married in Maryland and they move to South Carolina, Burdette said that is where her legal team could get involved.
“Why should your ZIP code determine your civil rights?” Burdette said. “It’s very disconcerting.”
Smith said his group believes marriage between one man and one woman “is the gold standard for kids.”
“Anything that harms that ability in a family is something we oppose,” he said.
A Pennsylvania county's choice to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in spite of the state ban on gay marriage "risks causing serious and limitless harm," Governor Tom Corbett's office said in legal filings on Monday.
Attorneys for the state's Health Department and Gov. Corbett filed a legal claim Monday against D. Bruce Hanes, the register of wills for Montgomery County, who has been illegally distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples for the past several weeks. Since he began, Hanes has issued 116 same-sex marriage licenses in spite of the state's 1996 statute defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.
In Monday's legal filing, Gov. Corbett's office argued that Hanes is blatantly violating state law, and as a public official he cannot breech a law simply because he personally believes it to be unconstitutional. Rather, the legal brief asserts that it is the responsibility of the courts to determine a law unconstitutional.
"Ours is a government of laws, not one of public officials exercising their will as they believe the law should be or will be," the legal brief stated, warning that Hanes and other county officials may be guilty of one misdemeanor for each act of breaking the law.
The governor's legal team also argued in a statement last week that the county's breach of state law could cause limitless "administrative and legal chaos," including same-sex couples illegally filing for state benefits. The goal of Corbett's lawsuit is to have Montgomery County cease issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
Hanes began issuing the licenses shortly after the state's attorney general Kathleen Kane stated that she would not be defending the 1996 ban on same-sex marriage in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is seeking to have the state legalize same-sex marriage. Kane, a democrat, said in a press conference that because she felt the 1996 ban to be unconstitutional, she could not ethically defend the law.
Gov. Corbett's office responded to Kane's announcement in a similar way it has responded to Hanes' actions, saying that her choice to not defend state law creates "confusion" in the courts, adding that her failure to defend the state was an "improper usurpation of the role of the courts, which at a minimum, causes confusion among those charged with administering the law." Corbett's office has now taken on the responsibility of defending the ban in court; the governor has previously voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Hanes, who controls the distribution of marriage licenses in Montgomery County, has vowed to continue distributing licenses to same-sex couples until he is ordered by the court to stop. He has previously cited the Attorney General's decision to not defend the gay marriage ban in court as a justification for his actions.
Hanes wrote in an Op-Ed for the Main Line Times that after consulting with his solicitor, Michael Clarke, relying on his own analysis of the law, and following the lead of Kane, he decided to "come down on the right side of history and the law" and issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Lawyers for Montgomery County told the Associated Press Monday that they had just received the governor's legal brief and were going to review it before responding to the media. The county has until Aug. 19 to file a response.
GRIMES, IA, August 12, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Christian couple is facing a state complaint, business cancellations, and vulgar, harassing, and threatening e-mail messages after refusing to rent out a business facility for a gay “wedding.”
Dick and Betty Odgaard said they could not in good conscience allow a homosexual couple to use their business, the Görtz Haus Gallery, to conduct the ceremony itself.
“To us, [marriage] is a sacrament,” Betty Odgaard said, that exists only “between a man and woman.”
She told Billy Hallowell of The Blaze their rejection was “totally a faith-based issue,” adding the couple would be happy to serve the homosexuals “in any other way,” besides being the site on which they traded vows.
The couple quickly filed a legal complaint before the Iowa Human Rights Commission, saying that state law forbids any public venue from denying the use of its premises on the basis of sexual orientation.
As the story of their denial broke, frightening messages began filling up the Odgaard's inbox, the couple says.
“F--k you, f--k your God, f--k your religion," said one message from an angry gay rights activist. The same writer enlarged upon his thoughts, adding, “You are mean, rude, selfish, mother f---er racist sons of b---hes from hell.”
The family has suffered financial loss for its traditional stance, as well. Other couples have canceled their ceremonies.
The Grimes, Iowa, location served as a Lutheran church for nearly 65 years and is a popular destination for couples tying the knot.
Two same-sex marriage experts told lawyers at an American Bar Association meeting in San Francisco today that they expect an "explosion of litigation" around the country in the wake of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings on gay nuptials.
But Chief Deputy San Francisco City Attorney Therese Stewart and National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter said they think litigation in California may be close to an end.
"It's hard to predict whether they'll continue to fight," said Stewart, referring to gay marriage opponents, "but we're not terribly anxious about it."
Elsewhere, however, Minter said, "there are cases all over the country" challenging state bans on same-sex marriage.
The two attorneys spoke at a panel during the ABA's annual meeting, which continues in the city through Tuesday.
The session was entitled "More Than an Equal Sign: the Defense of Marriage Act, Proposition 8, the Supreme Court and Your Practice."
In one of its two rulings on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the sponsors of Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, had no standing to appeal a lower court ruling striking down the ban.
That decision left in place a federal trial court judge's injunction blocking enforcement of Proposition 8, and gay and lesbian weddings resumed in California two days later.
In the second ruling, made in the case of New York widow Edith Windsor, the court struck down a key provision of the federal DOMA law that barred the U.S. government from giving federal benefits and tax advantages to legally married gay and lesbian couples.
The court did not rule directly in either case on whether a state prohibition on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.
But Minter said the Windsor decision's reliance on constitutional equal protection and due process doctrines appears to provide a foundation for state law challenges.
"There's almost nothing in the Windsor decision that wouldn't apply to state marriage laws," he told the audience.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriages.
States where lawsuits contesting gay marriage bans are pending include Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia and New Mexico, among others.
The Hawaii and Nevada cases are now on appeal before the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in San Francisco and are being considered together, Minter said.
In those two cases, federal trial judges upheld a Hawaii law and Nevada state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.
The 9th Circuit put the two cases on hold until the Supreme Court ruled on Proposition 8 and DOMA, and has now resumed receiving briefs in the two appeals. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Minter said that another type of litigation pending in a number of states is lawsuits seeking recognition of marriages of couples who were legally wed in one state but moved to another state.
"I think people are saying, 'We're not going to sit back any more,'" Minter said.
Stewart said litigation in California appears to be nearing an end after the Proposition 8 sponsors and San Diego County Clerk Ernest Dronenburg lost bids to the California Supreme Court for an immediate stay that would have reinstated Proposition 8.
The Proposition 8 backers still have a petition pending before the state court seeking review of their claim that the federal injunction protects only two couples who sued for the right to marry.
Stewart, who represented the city in the federal Proposition 8 case, predicted, "It's very likely we will see a denial of the petition very soon."
Dronenburg withdrew a similar petition on Monday.
Earlier, the Proposition 8 sponsors asked U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for an emergency stay on June 29, and were turned down by Kennedy without comment the next day.
Stewart and Minter noted that in the two rulings in June, the U.S. Supreme Court followed a judicial tradition of avoiding a broad decision in situations in which a case can be resolved on narrow grounds.
But both forecast that the court will eventually rule on state marriage laws and that a majority of the justices will find the bans unconstitutional.
"They may postpone it as long as they can, but I do think that at the end of the day we'll get there in the Supreme Court," Stewart predicted.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
By: Rebecca Elliott August 8, 2013 05:10 AM EDT
Defending a divisive gay marriage ban is probably not the fight Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett would have chosen 15 months ahead of an election he’s widely expected to lose. A majority of Pennsylvanians now support same-sex marriage, a dramatic shift from just a few years ago.
But the issue has been thrust in the first-term Republican’s lap — and the politics may not be all bad for him.
Corbett’s decision to stand by the state’s 1996 ban will help shore up his shaky support among Republicans and all but eliminates the possibility of a primary challenge from the right, strategists said.
But the conflict between Corbett and Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, also prolongs a conversation about an increasingly unpopular law when the governor is struggling to pick up every vote he can. A June poll out of Quinnipiac University said that Corbett, who is in his first term, has a dismal 30 percent favorability rating among Pennsylvania voters.
The legal debate over same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania was renewed two weeks after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s gay marriage ban, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and specifies that Pennsylvania will not recognize same-sex couples’ out-of-state marriages.
Although the defense of such challenges ordinarily falls under the purview of the state attorney general, Kane made the rare decision to not to back the law, saying she believes it to be “wholly unconstitutional.”
That put Corbett, one of the least popular governors in the country, in a tough spot: defend a law that a growing number of voters disagree with; or side with Kane and anger the GOP base.
On July 30, he chose the former.
Corbett’s decision adds gay marriage to the list of issues he must juggle ahead of what’s expected to be a vicious reelection fight. His tanking popularity and struggles to push his agenda through a legislature controlled by his own party — privatizing liquor stores, public pension reform and transportation funding — have prompted several Democrats to jump into next year’s race.
Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) announced her candidacy in April and State Treasurer Rob McCord launched a “McCord for Governor” political action committee in June. They lead Corbett by 10 and 8 points, respectively, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
Pennsylvania political analysts said Corbett had little choice but to defend the gay marriage ban.
“If he had chosen to accept the decision by Attorney General Kane, I think that would have put him in serious difficulty with his base” — namely, the most conservative voters in the state — said Franklin and Marshall pollster Terry Madonna.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said that he agrees with Kane that the Pennsylvania gay marriage law is unconstitutional but that Corbett “would look like a hypocrite” had he not defended it, given his stance on the issue.
Although the decision angered Democrats and could alienate moderate Republicans from the must-win Philadelphia suburbs, analysts said that in defending the law, Corbett all but guaranteed himself a straight shot at the Republican nomination, which had looked to be in jeopardy.
“I think if he didn’t defend it, the chances of someone from the party on the right using this as a moment to throw their hat in the ring would be much higher,” said Muhlenberg College pollster Chris Borick.
No Republicans have stepped up to run against Corbett since Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor took a pass in May.
Nevertheless, strategists said the debate over gay marriage will remain at the forefront of Pennsylvania politics in the coming months. The fact that the state’s attorney general and governor are at odds on the legality of a law passed by the state legislature will provide ample fodder for the media.
“It promises to have a protracted life in terms of Pennsylvania news,” said T.J. Rooney, a former state representative who served as chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party through 2010. “By its very nature it tends to draw people one way or the other.” Rooney is serving as the chair of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty’s campaign.
For Corbett, the extended coverage is less than welcome news. In 2006, a decade after the marriage law in question was passed, just 33 percent of Pennsylvanian voters approved of gay marriage. That number shot up by about 20 percentage points in the past seven years.
A February Franklin and Marshall poll found that 52 percent of Pennsylvania voters approve of gay marriage, the first time a public poll registered majority support. This number increased to 54 percent by May. However, a March poll from Public Policy Polling found that voters in the state were more divided on the issue, with 45 percent in favor of gay marriage as opposed to 47 percent against.
“In his optimal situation he would not have to talk about this issue at all, all the way to Election Day,” Borick said, adding that he thought Corbett would lose were an election to be held today.
However, what matters now may or may not be at the forefront of voters’ minds come November of next year.
“I think it has some potential to sort of replace abortion as the high-profile cultural issue,” Madonna said of gay marriage.
The ACLU lawsuit isn’t all that’s fueling the gay marriage controversy. The Corbett administration recently sued Montgomery County register of wills D. Bruce Hanes after he began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA. And the mayor of Braddock, a Pittsburgh suburb, officiated a gay marriage on Monday in defiance of the law.
Still, “I don’t necessarily think Democrats are going to lead with this issue in 2014 against the governor,” Borick said. While Democrats will be perfectly happy to let Corbett deal with fallout arising from his defense of the ACLU’s suit, they will probably tread lightly given that a significant number of Democrats are uneasy with same-sex marriage.
“In terms of electing the next governor, it will be a non-issue,” Rendell said.
Republican strategist Charlie Gerow agreed that gay marriage will not be the deciding factor — or even a major factor — in the 2014 election.
“I think that it’s a significant shift,” Gerow said of the state’s changing opinions on gay marriage. “But it’s not yet so overwhelming that it’s going to cause a political problem for somebody who supports a law passed by the general assembly supporting or upholding traditional marriage.”