Yesterday must have been rough for Tom Corbett, staunch defender of anti-gay bigotry.
What was once a trickle has now become a torrent, and it flows inexorably to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Yesterday must have been rough for Tom Corbett, staunch defender of anti-gay bigotry. Imagine the governor’s reaction to the news that a federal judge had legalized gay marriage in Pennsylvana – just as other federal judges have done recently in Oregon, Michigan, Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho, and Arkansas. Imagine Corbett ruminating like this:
“As I said last October, ‘gay’ marriage is like brother-sister incest. But now we have this liberal activist judge debauching the Commonwealth – no wait, it says here that the judge was nominated by George W. Bush, on the recommendation of Rick Santorum. But still, this is surely a radical ruling outside the mainstream – no wait, it says here that ‘gay’ marriage has won 14 successive federal and state court decisions. But still, I firmly believe that ‘gay’ marriage is a gateway drug to heroin – no wait, that’s what I said about pot. Anyway, the real question is, what the heck do I do now?!”
Federal judge John Jones III – indeed, a Bush appointee recommended by Santorum – could not have been more explicit when he concluded, as have other federal judges, that marriage inequality violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws. He decreed that, starting immediately, gays can marry in Pennsylvania. (And they are.) Jones wrote, “We now join the 12 federal district courts across the country that have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage.”
And, as have other federal judges, he crafted a few more rhetorical flourishes:
“The issue we resolve today is a divisive one. Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage. However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Were that no so, ours would still be a radically segregated nation according to the now-rightly discarded doctrine of ‘separate but equal’….In the sixty years since Brown (v. Board of Education) was decided, ‘separate’ has thankfully faded into history, and only ‘equal’ remains. Similarly, in future generations the label ‘same-sex’ marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage. We are a better people than what those laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”
So, seriously: what does Corbett do now? This morning, he was still trying to decide whether to appeal the Jones ruling (in the faint hope that Pennsylvania can remain the sole Northeast state with a gay marriage ban), or whether to let it stand (and thus bend with the arc of history). Corbett tweeted last night that he’s “in the process of thoroughly reviewing the decision of the court.”
Translation: He’s in the process of thoroughly reviewing his political dilemma.
Corbett is arguably the most unpopular incumbent governor in America, and he’s facing a potent challenge from Tom Wolf, the newly-annointed Democratic nominee. If Corbett takes the gay marriage ruling to the federal court of appeals, he’ll further alienate the moderate swing voters – most of whom couldn’t care less if gays get married. If moderate swing voters perceive him as a cultural reactionary, he is toast. (As I wrote last summer, when the Pennsylvania lawsuit on behalf of 11 gay couples was initially filed, “How can an unpopular conservative male possibly expect to win over the swing voters in the populous Philadelphia suburbs if he’s in court defending bigotry?”)
On the other hand, if Corbett surrenders on gay marriage and forgoes an appeal, his conservative Republican voters will be furious – perhaps furious enough to stay home in significant numbers on election day. And then he is toast.
Not a fun predicament. (Update, late afternoon: Corbett says he will not to contest legalization, because he doesn’t think he can win on appeal. He got that right. Heads will detonate on the religious right – ah yes, here they go – although by now those folks should be accustomed to losing.)
But looking ahead, the guy on the spot is the ultimate swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy. The final verdict on marriage equality will hinge on whether Kennedy hangs with his four conservative brethren – or with the quartet that believes, as does Bush appointee John Jones III, that gays deserve to be treated under the law like everyone else. I’m betting that Kennedy opts for equality; after all, he laid the groundwork last June. He was the swing vote to kill the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, and he wrote the ruling. Gay couples, he said, “should not have their lives burdened by government decree.”
But that’s probably a story for next year. For now, let’s merely savor what this moment must be like for Rick Santorum. Imagine what’s happening inside his head:
“Jones was my judge, for gosh sake! Let it be on his conscience, when Pennsylvania suffers its epidemic of Man on Dog.”
For the latest on the nascent gubernatorial race between Tom Wolf and Tom Corbett, read the estimable Dave Davies. I’ll just note that the pitiful statewide Democratic primary turnout (roughly 20 percent) makes me pine for the democratic enthusiasm in India (where the election turnout last Friday was 67 percent). At least in India, they don’t take the franchise for granted.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1
“Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways,” Kennedy said.
“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal,