Shorter Tom Corbett: Landlords Shouldn’t Discriminate Against Gays—But the State Should

He comes out in favor of anti-discrimination law—but still against gay marriage.

The Inquirer reports some unexpected news: Gov. Tom Corbett is backing a bill “banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations.” But he’s not budging on gay marriage: “I believe marriage is one man and one woman.”

In other words: Landlords shouldn’t discriminate against gays and lesbians. But your state government can.

First, let’s focus on the good news:

Corbett, who has previously staked out conservative positions on social issues, told The Inquirer that he was “coming out in support” of the bill after learning that federal law does not cover discrimination in the state.

“I’ve had people come and talk to me about how they were discriminated against,” said Corbett, who served for eight years as the state’s attorney general. “The federal government has antidiscrimination laws. I believed they covered it.”

Corbett’s support of legislation that has languished in the General Assembly for a decade is viewed by many advocates as a major step forward on a civil rights issue.

“This is remarkably big news,” said Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, a statewide gay rights advocacy group. “His leadership will move the issue forward in a way that is long overdue.”

So, in a way, it feels almost churlish to say: “What? You couldn’t back gay marriage, too?”

Which, honestly, is probably what this move is designed to do.

There are lots of folks in the middle of the political spectrum these days who aren’t exactly “gay rights activists” but who have decided that the time for discrimination against gay people is over. Those are the folks that LGBT activists have depended on to create a popular uprising for their cause. But Corbett must figure a fair number of those folks are “split the baby” types who, seeing him give ground on one part of the issue, will take that as a sign of his good faith and maybe start to give him a chance in his otherwise-impossible re-election effort.

Certainly, it’s further evidence that Rick Santorum style give-no-ground social conservatism is spent as a political force in Pennsylvania. The “conservative” governor just adopted a stance not all that different from what Bill Clinton advocated in the 1990s. The culture has moved on.