While Gov. Tom Corbett says it’s too late, 20 Pennsylvania lawmakers are right to continue seeking a say for the General Assembly on the definition of marriage.
In a June 10 letter to Theresa Santai-Gaffney, Schuylkill County’s clerk of Orphans Court, the state representatives — including five from Lancaster County — frame the matter correctly.
“In a democratic system such as ours, the Legislature is the place for contentious social issues to be debated and decided,” said Ryan Aument, of Landisville; Bryan Cutler, of Peach Bottom; Gordon Denlinger, of Narvon; Mindy Fee, of Manheim; Keith Greiner, of Leola; and 15 other lawmakers.
Corbett has said he sees no path to victory and, therefore, will not appeal U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III’s May 20 ruling that Pennsylvania’s law defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman should be discarded “into the ash heap of history.”
However eloquent, and perhaps correct in his read as to the leanings of five of the U.S. Supreme Court’s nine justices on the matter, Jones is not and should not be the final word on gay marriage.
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision in United States v. Windsor demanded that the federal government recognize the gay marriages of those married in states permitting them.
It did not go quite as far as Jones did, and despite the praise his ruling has attracted, his step beyond that ruling created rather than followed precedent — not the role for a federal district judge.
In rejecting Santai-Gaffney’s appeal of his decision, however, Jones is on firmer footing. Santai-Gaffney does appear to lack standing to appeal the decision.
That’s a problem Corbett, as governor, would not have. He would be standing up for the people of Pennsylvania, whose Legislature passed the law the judge struck down.
He should do so.
The governor’s assertion that any appeal would be unsuccessful isn’t consistent with his previous remarks on the issue.
During his 2010 campaign, Corbett said he supported the state’s traditional definition of marriage. And, in 2013, he said the governor’s office would defend the ban, after state Attorney General Kathleen Kane had declined to do so.
“The attorney general has chosen not to defend,” Corbett said in July 2013. “I believe they (the laws of Pennsylvania) should be defended. We have said we will defend and we will defend. This is an important issue.”
Corbett was right then, but he is wrong now.
Defenders of traditional marriage have two strong arguments: centuries of tradition and a legitimate claim to representing the best interests of children.
While the courts do seem inclined to dismiss these concerns as mere cloaks for anti-gay bias, they should not be allowed to strike down our marriage law without encountering a vigorous counter-argument.
The governor should stand up for Pennsylvania’s law, and his own principles, on this important issue.