Commentary Sexuality

Two Republican Governors Remind Us That Same-Sex Marriage Is Not a Reality for All

Martha Kempner

New Jersey's governor appeals a state court's decision to start allowing marriage for same-sex couples, while the governor of neighboring Pennsylvania goes on TV and compares same-sex marriage to incest.

The recent news about same-sex marriage has been encouraging as the nation makes strides toward marriage equality for all couples. After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex spouses also learned that they could be entitled to federal benefits and that their visas would be treated like those of any other couple. In addition, two new states—Rhode Island and Minnesota—added their names to the list of those where same-sex couples could get married.

This week, however, two Republican governors weighed in on the topic, reminding us that marriage equality is not yet a reality for all.

First was the governor in New Jersey, which is also run by a state assembly and senate controlled by Democrats (though without enough of a margin to easily override a veto). In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state’s constitution required that same-sex couples be given the same rights as opposite-sex couples. In response, the legislature passed a law that allowed for civil unions of homosexual couples but not marriage. Last year, the legislature passed another law that allowed for same-sex marriage, but Gov. Chris Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, vetoed it. State Democrats have until January to get enough votes together to override that veto.

In the meantime, gay rights advocates sued the state, arguing that the existing civil union law did not actually give them equal protection as had been mandated by the state supreme court. On Friday, September 27, a New Jersey Superior Court Judge in Mercer County ruled that in light of the DOMA ruling, the state had to start allowing marriage for same-sex couples. She gave the state an October 21 deadline, by which time it must comply with her orders.

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As promised, however, Gov. Christie appealed the court’s ruling and asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to stay the order until it could hear the case. In a letter to the court, Christie’s appointed interim Attorney General John Jay Hoffman said, “If the court single-handedly, without guiding precedent and without input from the Supreme Court, reverses this course and overrides the intent of the democratically elected branch, the state will suffer irreparable harm.”

Of course, one of the democratically elected branches of the state government did intend for same-sex couple to be allowed to marry—it just wasn’t Gov. Christie’s branch.

While New Jersey’s governor feels that allowing same-sex marriage right now would cause irreparable harm to the state, just over the Delaware River, the governor of Pennsylvania had worse things to say.

While appearing on a talk show, Gov. Tom Corbett was reminded of comments that a member of his legal team made over the summer comparing same-sex marriage to unions between 12-year-olds, saying both are illegal. The interviewer seemed prepared to let the governor off the hook, saying, “You called those comments inappropriate.” And yet Gov. Corbett opened his mouth and promptly inserted his foot. He said, “It was an inappropriate analogy. I think a much better analogy would be a brother and sister. Don’t you?”

No governor, we don’t.

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