Republican Gov. Tom Corbett apologized for comparing the marriage of same-sex couples to the marriage of a brother and sister during an appearance on a Friday morning TV news show.
"My words were not intended to offend anyone. If they did, I apologize," Corbett said in a statement this morning.
The Pennsylvania governor was on WHP-TV in Harrisburg speaking about gay marriage when an anchor asked about a statement his lawyers made in a recent court filing, comparing the marriage of gay couples to the marriage of children because neither can legally marry in the state.
"It was an inappropriate analogy, you know," Corbett said. "I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don't you?"
In the statement, issued about six hours after the controversial comment, Corbett's explanation for the comment was quoted as, "I explained that current Pennsylvania statute delinieates categories of individuals unable to obtain a marriage license. As an example, I cited siblings as one such category, which is clearly defined in state law. My intent was to provide an example of these categories.
State senator Daylin Leach, a Democrat who represents Philadelphia's 17th district said the comment was profoundly sad and disturbing.
"I mean Rick Santorum stopped saying stuff like this 10 years ago and it makes you wonder, does Governor Corbett know any gay people, does he have any gay friends, does he care about his gay constituents," Leach said.
Just yesterday, Leach announced he was among a group of lawmakers who are making another push to get a marriage equality bill passed in the legislature that allows same-sex marriages in Pennsylvania.
The state's current law is being challenged in the courts, which Corbett also addressed in his televised interview. The governor, who is a lawyer, former federal prosecutor and state attorney general, said that he does not think a pending legal challenge to Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage belongs in federal court.
"The Supreme Court left it up to the states to determine under their laws as to what is and isn't a marriage," Corbett said. "The federal court shouldn't even be involved in this. But if they say they are, then they're going to make a determination whether the state has the right to determine that a marriage is only between a man and a woman and not between two individuals of the same sex."
Mark Aronchick, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in that case, called Corbett's remarks "insensitive, insulting and plainly wrong."
"In other words, some kind of incestuous relationship," Aronchick said. "He's just out of touch on this one. Gay people marry for the same reasons straight people do -- to express their love and to declare their commitment before friends and family."
Ted Martin with Equality Pennsylvania, which advocates on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, called the governor's remarks "shocking and hurtful" and asked him to apologize.
Corbett's attorneys in August included a reference to children in a legal brief involving same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses. In the court filing opposing allowing same-sex couples to intervene in the state's lawsuit to bar a suburban Philadelphia county from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the lawyers made an analogy to a pair of 12-year-olds, saying if the children were issued a marriage license and tried to defend it in court, they wouldn't be taken seriously because the license was never valid.
Corbett later rejected that analogy, saying the case revolved around the question of whether a public official had "the authority to disregard state law based on his own personal legal opinion about the constitutionality of a statute."
A state judge sided with Corbett in that case, ordering the clerk to stop issuing the licenses. Other challenges to the same-sex ban are also pending in state courts.
A hearing on the federal challenge to the same-sex marriage ban is scheduled for Wednesday in Harrisburg.