Governor Corbett’s Incest Comment Was Not Homophobic

But it was still incredibly, positively stupid.

Tom Corbett

On Friday morning, I saw the unsurprising headlines exploding all over social media: “Governor Corbett compared gay marriage to incest!!!

I was about to share one such story on Facebook, along with a comment to the effect of: “Just one more reason for us to hate on Governor Corbett.” I’m not a fan of the 46th leader of our state.




But then I decided to watch the video for myself. And it's just not that simple.

In case you're not up to date, a brief refresher.

Way back in August, when Montgomery County clerk D. Bruce Hanes decided to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses, someone on Corbett's legal team made the observation that you can't just go telling gays they can start marrying in this state, just like you can't tell 12-year-old kids that they can start marrying.

Here's what the attorney actually said:

"Had the clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old … is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his 'license'?"

A lot of people didn't like that.

Then on Friday, Corbett appeared on a Harrisburg television program, where he was asked about the attorney's explanation. "It was an inappropriate analogy," he told the host, off to a pretty good start. But then he added, "I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don't you?"

Instead of just leaving it at "inappropriate," he had to go and bring up incest, one of civilization's biggest universal taboos.

Well, everyone has jumped on the "Corbett is homophobic" bandwagon, with stories turning up in places like Slate, TIME and CNN, and of course on any LGBT blog worth its bandwidth. And Corbett may very well be homophobic, but this comment certainly wasn't indicative of that.

Corbett wasn't making a moral judgment. He was making a legal distinction. He wasn't equating the act of same-sex marriage (or the act of same-sex sex) to the act of sibling marriage (or sibling sex). It was pretty obvious to me that what he meant was that state law prohibits same-sex couples from marrying in the same way that state law prohibits siblings from marrying.

In trying to explain away an "inappropriate" analogy, he inserted his own analogy. And its actually a perfectly logical and apt one. It was also incredibly stupid. Bad politics no matter how you measure it.

Sure enough, on Friday afternoon, Corbett issued this statement explaining his position:

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.

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  • Natalie Hope McDonald

    I beg to differ. When one of the state’s top-ranking elected officials compares an equal rights discussion to incest (at a time when a law is being introduced to legalize same-sex marriage in PA), it undermines both the legal and ethical points in a way that not only dehumanizes same-sex couples and their most recent efforts to secure equal rights, but suggests that they (and their relationships) are somehow taboo (is there anything more taboo than incest?). Corbett’s ongoing efforts to fight against marriage equality in Pennsylvania also certainly weighs heavily on the controversial comments he’s made – ridiculous legal mumbo jumbo or not. In fact, he’s made every effort to prevent LGBT citizens from accessing the same rights as straight peers even as fellow legislators in surrounding states (hello, New York and Delaware) have done the opposite to ensure that all citizens are treated equally. If his homophobia isn’t even MORE apparent with this latest comment, I don’t know what he could possibly say to convince you. Comments like these play into ignorance and fear (ultimately homophobia) – as well as the most obvious fear of all: the fear of change for this, the old, conservative, white male guard whose days are numbered.

  • Jane Yavis

    Victor, we agree,,,,,Stupid is when Stupid Speaks.

    My guess is we simply have to consider source and motive Hand picked .elected and protected by Republicans who know he’s weak and can be pushed around, and Proof Positive that empty heads make the most noise. Our local Leader of Philadelphia Area Depends Delegates all scared to death of a Talk Radio Primary Challenge threat, actually thought that’s what the base wanted to hear. Don’t call him too stupid yet,,,,,he’s starting to understand the Western Part of the State, not Philadelphia talk radio, put him in office.

    The guy caved, that’s all.

  • UKEagle99

    I apologise if I am going off “half cocked” here but this caught my eye via Disqus. Same sex couple cannot marry in Pennsylvania? If true that is incredibly “old fashioned” and regardless of whether it is true or not, the Governor sounds like a d@!k, vote him out!

    What is the issue? I don’t get it. Two women or two men marrying is going to corrupt society? Hardly. I would guess there are bigger issues out there right now.

  • ErShava

    Is it illegal for two gay brothers to marry each other?