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.