Pennsylvania Governor In Tough Spot, Thanks To Marriage Equality Suit

Tom-Corbett-portrait1-768x1024Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is already in a difficult situation politically. He's a Republican governor of a state that voted for Obama in the 2012 election, and has very low approval ratings as he draws near to his potential reelection battle next year. He's also named in the suit Whitewood v. Corbett, which challenges the state's same-sex marriage ban. Since Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, has already declined to defend the lawsuit, it's up to Corbett to decide what to do next. 

Corbett has already expressed disapproval over Kane's actions in a statement released from his office by Pennsylvania General Counsel James D. Schultz: 

“We are surprised that the Attorney General, contrary to her constitutional duty under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, has decided not to defend a Pennsylvania statute lawfully enacted by the General Assembly, merely because of her personal beliefs."

Nevertheless, Corbett is now faced with a difficult choice, alienate the conservative base that elected him in 2010, or risk running contrary to the popular opinion in his state. Poll data from earlier this year indicated that 52% of voters in the state supported marriage equality, as opposed to 41% who opposed it. According to Politico, he has expressed support for the law in the past. Unfortunately, his approval rating has also not climbed above 35% since his election, and there is already a crowded field of Democrats vying to take his place. Quinnipac Poll data has already declared Corbett to be the U.S.'s least popular sitting governor, and 53% of voters have already declared that he does not deserve re-election. According to Muhlenberg College pollster Chris Borick, Conservative support for Corbett is already "lukewarm." Thus, it might not be wise for him to stick to his guns on this issue.

PennsylvaniaFranklin & Marshall pollster Terry Madonna is confident that the governor will defend the law, stating that, “He opposes gay marriage and his conservative base would be furious with him if he does not.” Borick also did note that midterm elections do tend to have lower turnouts, and tend to skew towards older and more conservative voters. That said, Corbett has also yet to announce that he's running for reelection. Thus, poll data may not play into the equation at all, for Corbett, if his plans do not include running a reelection campaign. 

Regardless of how the governor will eventually decide, his time is starting to run out. Judge John E. Jones, III, has already been assigned to oversee the case, and with Prop. 8 officially dead, the ACLU is anxious to knock over the next marriage equality domino. Of the three states with pending ACLU lawsuits, Pennsylvania is definitely the bluest. 

Thus far, Corbett's office has only had one thing to say to the press regarding his decision…that they “will continue to review the lawsuit.”


  1. Marc C says

    Add to this his refusal to investigate a prolific child molester and he’s toast anyway. He’s worth neither time, nor money at this point.

  2. JONES says

    Politics vs equality.

    He’s alarmed and displeased that Ms Kane wouldn’t defend an unconstitutional law but his office can only offer ‘will continue to review the lawsuit’ for their actions.

    In his view Kane should have jumped right in but he has to review it. Not so sure it was lawfully enacted, Governor, you know, being contrary to the PA constitutional guarantee of civil rights for all? Why the review?

    You’ve got to do better than this GOP.

  3. Francis #1 says

    I don’t really think that Tom Corbett will lose many voters because he opposes marriage equality. I’m sure most people already assume/know he does and have made up their mind on that accordingly. With that being said, hopefully he’s out of office after ’14.

  4. Patric says

    Sadly, this will not in fact be a difficult political calculation for him at all. If he is running, his chances are not great but, if he has any at all, he must first shore up his base.

    Additionally, the poll showing supporters of equality outnumbering opponents by a 52-41 margin is almost meaningless as we have abundant evidence that, for the great majority of voters, a candidate’s positions on LGBT issues, including marriage equality, are not determinative of their support for or opposition to the candidate. New Jersey is a sad reminder of that. Despite 2-1 support for equality and despite the fact the New Jersey is literally the only State in the country where a single person – Chris Christie – is blocking equality, the anti-gay Christie is comfortably ahead of LGBT ally and marriage equality supporter Barbara Buono in current polling.

    This is not a close call for him politically and certainly will not be one as long as members of our own community in states like New Jersey shamefully give their votes to men like Chris Christie, who oppose our equality.

  5. Bingo says

    Why is the ACLU in a rush to get this to the Supreme Court, which seems less than eager and perhaps not ready to address it? This is as risky as Prop 8, which we might easily have lost except for procedural stuff.

    There are other cases, lower hanging fruit, to go after. Like the Veterans Administration denying benefits to the same sex spouse if a veteran.

  6. KT says

    Patric, I always think of Christie whenever people say the GOP is is trouble if they go against gay marriage. If a Republican in a true blue state where an overwhelming amount of people favor same sex marriage can single handedly prevent SSM and still come out smelling like a rose, I am not so sure why Republicans in less blue states would have to worry.

  7. Rich says


    The ACLU strategy makes sense to me. Either the Commonwealth will refuse to defend the suit, which adds PA to our column, or the district court will follow the Walker ruling. In the absence of a conflict between appellate districts, SCOTUS can maintain its discreet silence for as long as it finds prudent.

    The larger the group of Americans who live with marriage equality and discover the sky hasn’t fallen, the easier it will be for SCOTUS to herd the stragglers with a Loving type decision.

  8. Rob says

    “We are surprised that the Attorney General, contrary to her constitutional duty under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, has decided not to defend a Pennsylvania statute lawfully enacted by the General Assembly, merely because of her personal beliefs.”

    Yet the GOP wants to allow ANYONE to discriminate against LGBT people based on their personal beliefs.

  9. says

    “Why is the ACLU in a rush to get this to the Supreme Court, which seems less than eager and perhaps not ready to address it?”

    @Bingo, nothing rushes to the Supreme Court (witness how long it took to get a DOMA case in front of them), and if the Supreme Court isn’t ready to address the case if and when it reaches them, it can choose not to address it. The ACLU knew what they were doing in the Edie Windsor case.

    As others have said, the governor will defend the law because, even if he believes it’s unconstitutional, his base would abandon him in a second. Meanwhile, the AG is free to follow her conscience.

  10. says

    Impeached for what, BobR? PA law says the AG (and I’m guessing she knows the law) can have others defend a law if she thinks defending it is either inefficient (i.e. waste of money) or not in the best interest of the state (i.e. unconstitutional). She made clear why she was choosing not to defend it. If he wants to try to impeach her for that, incurring a big tab for the dog and pony show, I’m not sure it would increase his already low popularity.

  11. JONES says

    Corbett may be a Republican but he’s not that stupid.
    He’s on his way out; SCOTUS, in DOMA, despite what naysayers have claimed here, was definitive about states rights to regulate marriage but only in accordance to constitutionally guaranteed civil rights; the PA law was passed contrary to it’s own state constitution (Article 1 Sec 26), AND the percentage of support for SSM equality grows daily in PA and the rest of the country, about 60-40, and the presiding Judge has already stood up to religious lunacy in the ‘intelligent design as science’ case.

    That’s about a big a losing hand as you can hold and he knows he’s in no position to bluff.

  12. Jere says

    What I find interesting is that Kane’s refusal to defend the law is, according to her statement, not based in her personal beliefs, as Corbett claims, but based on her belief that the law is in violation of the state constitution, which she is required to uphold and defend. If Corbett now decides to defend the law, he will have to find a reason to do so that is NOT rooted in his own personal beliefs. He will have to state why he disagrees with the Attorney General on this point of law. He can’t simply claim that his religious beliefs tie his hands in the matter, as Christie did in NJ.

  13. Patric says

    I disagree, Jones. His primary concern is not whether the lawsuit is winnable or not; it’s what impact his decision will have on his chances of winning re-election and, when he looks at it that way (in addition to likely being a homophobe),shoring up his base will be his obvious choice.

  14. Patric says

    I also disagree with you, Bingo.

    Any new cases are not as risky as the Prop 8 federal lawsuit. When that suit was brought, there was significant doubt as to which way Justice Kennedy as the swing vote would swing. Now it is difficult to imagine him not being the fifth vote for equality in future litigation challenging a marriage ban.

  15. Patric says

    Also, Bingo, the Windsor opinion of the Court will carry great weight in future decisions by lower federal courts. There was no such clearly supportive precedent when Perry was brought.

  16. JONES says

    My comment about Corbett wasn’t about his defending the court case it was in reference to the question about whether or not he would try to impeach Kane.

    Are you saying you think he’ll try to impeach Kane as a method to to shore up his base? As I stated I don’t think Corbett’s that stupid. He knows full well she’s within her rights as AG to not defend this law.

  17. Chuckles says


    But this risks going to the Supremes and getting shot down. Everything hangs on Kennedy and how he feels on a given day.

    Why not sue in state court? There are nice models to follow in other states.

    (BTW, the Walker ruling will never be heard from again. The breadth of his rulings based on that grossly unbalanced trial….would just invite mockery. There’s plenty of research and amicus briefs for the arguments required.)

  18. Chuckles says


    Lower courts have already noted that Windsor has two prongs, one equality and one federalism. We don’t know how Kennedy will swing on those 2 issues.

    Your analysis involves some wishful thinking, I fear.

    Less risky than the Prop 8 case? Yes. Sleeping in the street is less risky than the Prop 8 case.

  19. redcedar says

    “Everything hangs on Kennedy and how he feels on a given day.”

    Justice Kennedy has yet to have a day when he’s decided gay Americans are entitled to less than equal treatment.

  20. Patric says

    “Lower courts have already noted that Windsor has two prongs, one equality and one federalism. We don’t know how Kennedy will swing on those 2 issues.”

    If you don’t know how Justice Kennedy is likely to swing on an equal protection claim challenging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, then you clearly have read none of his opinions in Romer, Lawrence or, in particular, Windsor. I suggest you do so.

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