Pennsylvania Governor’s Non-Apology and Same-Sex Marriage in New Jersey (and maybe Michigan)

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbetts, responding to an aide’s comparison of same-sex marriage to the marriage of twelve-year olds:

“It was an inappropriate analogy. I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don’t you?”

Oh, that’s offensive? The Governor has that covered:

“My words were not intended to offend anyone. If they did, I apologize,”

Gotta love that conditional “if” that places all the blame on the hearer, instead of the speaker. And the elision of an apology for the stupid comparison itself.

Governor Corbett, please listen for a moment. Incest is banned not simply for moral reasons, but for the harm it can do to offspring. Same-sex marriage does not result in in-breeding, so the analogy is inaccurate, and you should apologize not just for being offensive, but for not having thought through the simple logic of such an important policy issue.

And to your aide, we ban marriage between 12-year olds because we don’t believe they have developed the mental maturity to make such a momentous decision yet. If you think that adult homosexuals don’t have the mental maturity to make such decisions, why don’t you crawl out of your mental panic room and actually meet some real live gay couples?

Meanwhile, New Jersey starts allowing same-sex marriage today, and Governor Chris Christie says he won’t try to block them any further. I suspect Christie doesn’t really care, but had to make the effort to avoid losing all credibility with the GOP base, and having the state Supreme Court bail him out on this issue is probably just fine with him. That’s speculative, of course, but clearly Christie’s no died-in-the-wool moral majoritarian. He has, after all, supported civil unions for gay couples, and he’s been squishy on abortion.

This now makes 14 states (plus D.C.) that allow same-sex marriage. As some (including me) have previously noted, that’s a minority sizable enough to block a constitutional amendment banning SSM, if that is, the legislatures of those states were supportive. Where SSM has come about through court decisions, that may not be the case. But at any rate, the demand for a constitutional amendment banning SSM seems to have diminished. Part of that is surely the nation-wide increase in support for SSM, but I suspect another part is the recession and the on-going titanic clashes between the President and the Tea Party Congressmembers over much more important moral issues like Obamacare. Yes, if the Tea Partiers are pushing that moral issue harder than the moral issue of icky gay marriage, you where there their true priorities don’t lie.

The issue has been a centerpiece of American politics for a generation now, if we date it back to Hawai’i’s Baehr case, which, I think, is what really kicked off the national debate, and I think we can now see the end-game. I expect in the next few years the Supreme Court will make its final ruling stating that denial of same-sex marriage is a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. And in most states this will be accepted with minor grumbling.

Here in Michigan, for example, we passed a constitutional amendment to ban SSM with just under 59% of the vote. And in 2011 the Republican controlled legislature passed a law prohibiting most public employers from offering health benefits to domestic partners (but with universities excepted). But today opposition to SSM–specifically, to either legislation or a ballot measure legalizing it–has dropped to just over 51%, and it’s doubtful that most of that opposition is very deep. A federal judge may issue a ruling striking down our ban in the next few days, and while there would certainly be the necessary pro-forma protests from the right–the strict rules of political theater must be obeyed–I think an opposition movement would gain no real momentum. This isn’t like abortion or the Old South’s response to Brown v. Board of Education.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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7 Responses to Pennsylvania Governor’s Non-Apology and Same-Sex Marriage in New Jersey (and maybe Michigan)

  1. Troublesome Frog says:

    And in 2011 the Republican controlled legislature passed a law prohibiting most public employers from offering health benefits to domestic partners (but with universities excepted).

    Universities excepted? Is there an interesting story behind that one?

  2. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Depends on your definition of interesting I suppose. There was some lobbying by university officials and an accession to the political reality of what a bunch of amoral liberals academics are. But even that tells me that the issue doesn’t have as much moral force among the Michigan GOP has it would have in the past.

  3. Troublesome Frog says:

    That’s what I figured. It’s the usual “Let’s kick some people to make a point, but let’s not kick those guys because they might kick back” situation. Educated, hard-to-replace employees who have a tendency to start fights on principle are a bad target for those sorts of symbolic acts.

  4. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Oh, yeah, never underestimate what bad-ass political street fighters we academics are!

  5. pierrecorneille says:

    Off topic a bit, but is a conditional apology ever acceptable? Obviously not in this case, but is there ever a situation where one ought to apologize, but the apology can be accompanied by a “if you were offended….” I can’t think of any concrete example of where such would be acceptable, but my sense is that it can in some circumstances.

  6. Dr X says:


    If you think of sorrow as a cognitively-framed subset of sadness, the conditional seems ruled out. You’re sad or you aren’t sad. Is there an affective state of “if-sadness? I’d say,no. On a practical level, in working with couples over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an apology preceeded by ‘if’ that was met with anything other than anger and derision. As soon as one party offers such an apology to the other, my thought is: “here we go!” But it’s actually a teachable moment, or at least the beginning of learning about the counterproductive nature of conditional apologies.

    I’d qualify all this by saying that a person could say: “I feel terrible that my actions caused you so much pain. I don’t understand why that is, but could you help me to understand.” There are many variations on this, including that the hurtful action was unavoidable. “I’m sorry you were worried when I didn’t show up. My car died on the way and like an idiot, I’d forgotten to charge my phone.” But the sorrow in these cases isn’t conditional. There’s a recognition that one’s actions or a state of affairs led to distress for the other person. And that isn’t to say that distress caused to another person always requires an apology for relationship repair, but that’s another subject and I’ve probably gone on too long already. Sorry about that.

  7. pierrecorneille says:

    Thanks, Dr. X. Whatever I was thinking of was probably along the lines of what you noted in the first part of your second paragraph.

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