Tom Corbett apologizes for state lawyers who compared married gay couples to children

Corbett called the comparison "inappropriate," but will continue to defend the state's ban on gay marriage

Published August 30, 2013 1:25PM (EDT)

Gov. Tom Corbett   (AP)
Gov. Tom Corbett (AP)

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has apologized after state lawyers compared married gay adults to married children.

In a legal brief filed as part of a lawsuit against a Montgomery County clerk who has been issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in defiance of a state ban on marriage equality, lawyers for the Pennsylvania Department of Health wrote, "Had the Clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old has a legally enforceable 'interest' in his 'license' and is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his 'license'?"

The state attorneys also argued that the licenses issued to 154 gay and lesbian couples have "no value" or "legitimacy," and are the effective equivalent of licenses issued to children.

Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, spokesman for the Office of General Counsel, said that, although he believed the analogy was being "taken out of context," the governor acknowledges it was inappropriate. "That's coming from the governor's mouth," Hagen-Frederiksen added.

Corbett has said he intends to defend the state ban on gay marriage, even after Pennsylvania's attorney general said she would not defend the law. "I believe they should be defended,” Corbett said of the ban. “We have said we will defend, and we will defend. This is an important issue.”

The official at the center of the lawsuit, Bruce Hanes, says he began issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples because he believes that the state law is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

He is scheduled to testify in the case next week.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Gay Marriage Gay Rights Lgbt Rights Lgbtq Rights Marriage Equality