Getting to the root of Gov. Corbett's decision to back down on gay marriage

Gov. Tom Corbett chose not to appeal the court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. But why?

· May 25, 2014, 1:46 pm   ·  Updated July 22, 2014, 6:47 pm

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Wedding bells rang out statewide following Governor Tom Corbett’s Wednesday announcement that he would not appeal the federal judge’s decision striking down the ban of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.

As an opponent to same-sex marriage on the grounds of his religious beliefs, Corbett said in a statement, “I continue to maintain the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. My duties as governor require that I follow the laws as interpreted by the Courts and make a judgment as to the likelihood of a successful appeal."

The Daily Pennsylvanian examined some of Corbett’s possible motivations for choosing not to challenge the ruling.

Election on the  horizon

With a gubernatorial election looming in November, the issue of same-sex marriage is now off the table as ammunition for Democratic nominee for governor Tom Wolf.

Rogers Smith , Penn professor of political science, explained that since Corbett is seeking re-election and “his poll numbers are low,” his decision may impact his campaign for re-election.

“He correctly decided they were likely to lose on appeal and there was no point in extending state funds to end up on the losing side of a controversial issue,” Smith said.

When it comes to the reaction of those who supported the ban, “They will be disappointed,” Smith said, but added, “The bet he’s making is that their disappointment will not be strong enough to determine their vote.”

Not worth the fight...

John Stapleton, Attorney for the law firm Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, represented the plaintiffs in the case.

“The writing on the wall is that it’s a matter of time before we have marriage equality in all 50 states,” Stapleton said, noting how 44 percent of the U.S. population currently lives in a state with legal same-sex marriage.

The case saw a quick turnaround — having been filed just last summer — and follows a high rate of success seen for attempts to strike down bans on same-sex marriage cases in federal courts around the country.

“Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal,” Corbett said in his statement.

Law School professor Kermit Roosevelt noted that the issue of same-sex marriage is becoming a “legal question rather than a factual question.”

Smith said: “Since there is no evidence of harm, there is no real argument other than people have religious or moral objections and that isn’t sufficient to deny people these rights.”

... Or worth the money

“It also makes a lot of sense for a state that has a lot of issues going on right now. [Pennsylvania] can focus its resources on good things rather than trying to support discriminatory laws,” Stapleton said.

Having already spent $558,000 to defend the ban, it would not have been fiscally responsible to keep the battle going, according to a Pennsylvania Treasury Press Release from May 21.

Roosevelt explained how not a single state court decision regarding same-sex marriage has been overturned since United States v. Windsor, the landmark Supreme Court case that put the decision in the hands of the states.

“It’s still an issue that could motivate part of the Republican base to go out and vote,” he said, but he added that there is a younger generation of Republicans who might not have supported the ban.

“It would not have helped him [politically] to be in opposition to same-sex marriage,” Roosevelt said.

With the standing precedent of success in other states, Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rob McCord advised Corbett in the Treasury’s press release prior to to Corbett’s statement on Wednesday, “Here is an easy choice: Don’t waste any more money on court battles the majority of Pennsylvania citizens don’t want to wage.”

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