Standing in the school-house door

Tom Corbett risks becoming the George Wallace of same-sex marriage

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Tom Corbett could learn a lot from George Wallace. In 1963, Alabama Gov. Wallace boldly stood in the schoolhouse door in an attempt to prevent the National Guard and a deputy U.S. attorney general from forcing the University of Alabama to integrate, fulfilling his promise to stand for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

“Forever” turned out to be less than 10 years, by which time even the man synonymous with obstructing integration had relented, accepting that the world had changed. When Wallace campaigned for president in 1972, he no longer was a segregationist. By 1983, he was appointing African Americans to his cabinet in Montgomery.

This month, Illinois and Hawaii joined the growing number of states that grant full marriage equality — now 16, plus the District of Columbia. Also this month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, despite his long-standing opposition to same-sex marriage, acknowledged that it was inevitable in the Garden State. He ended attempts to block a court decision allowing same-sex marriage to commence.

Gov. Corbett, however, remains determined to resist the tide of history. Not long ago, his legal team compared the marriage of gay couples to the marriage of children. He later amended the comments to say, “It was an inappropriate analogy, you know. I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don’t you?” Yes, a much better analogy; incest is much better than sex between children.

The march for marriage equality came down out of New England and jumped to Maryland and Delaware. Now New Jersey has filled in part of the gap to connect the dots in the Northeast. Pennsylvania stands out like a red thumb on the map.

A lawsuit in Ohio is progressing (the first attempt to squelch it failed) and could surprisingly make the Buckeye State the next to join the equality column, although New Mexico is coming up fast on the outside in the rush to the altar.

Thirty-eight percent of Americans now live where they can marry the person they love regardless of gender. Oregon will vote on the issue next year, where it seems poised to win, although some find it appalling that the majority should get to vote on the rights of a persecuted minority.

Referendums or court cases will likely add at least four if not more states by 2016. Before we vote for another president, it’s likely that even without a sweeping federal court decision (which this summer’s DOMA and Prop 8 Supreme Court rulings were not) that more than half of the states and half of the country’s population will live in equality states.

Pennsylvania, the one colony that really was founded for freedom (it didn’t dictate a state religion), risks getting left behind in a race that will surely end up the same place that integration did.

The commonwealth lags in other ways as well. It’s one of the 29 states where someone can still be fired or evicted for being gay, although enactment of the federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act could change that. A bipartisan majority passed it in the U.S. Senate this month, but Speaker John Boehner won’t bring it up in the House. It likely would pass there, too, but Mr. Boehner prefers not to allow votes on measures that a majority of House Republicans do not support.

Meanwhile, there’s Tom Corbett on the schoolhouse steps trying to turn back the onrushing tide of equality — and a decade from now he will look just as foolish as George Wallace did. It might not take even that long. Public opinion is shifting much faster on gay rights than it did on civil rights for African Americans. Polls show that perhaps as many as 60 percent of Americans and Pennsylvanians now support marriage equality.

Gov. Corbett’s approval ratings, on the other hand, are dismal. If he wants to get his numbers up, getting on the right side of history would help.

Walter G. Meyer, a native of Bethel Park, is the author of the novel “Rounding Third” and lives in San Diego.

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