HARRISBURG -- Attempting to explain one controversy related to his administration's defense of a Pennsylvania law forbidding same-sex marriage, Gov. Tom Corbett stumbled into another today.
A slew of Democratic gubernatorial opponents wasted no time, pouncing on Mr. Corbett's remarks on a Harrisburg morning show and demanding a prompt apology while calling his words demeaning and offensive.
In the interview on WHP-TV, Mr. Corbett, a Republican, was asked about a recent legal filing by state attorneys against a Montgomery County clerk who issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The brief said the licenses were not valid, just as licenses issued to children would not be valid.
"It was an inappropriate analogy," the governor said. "I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don't you?"
"I don't know. I don't know," the host said.
She added: "I'm going to leave the comments to you and your team," while laughing nervously and putting a straightened arm toward the governor.
Democrats seized on the remark. By mid-morning the governor's analogy was getting wide attention in social media and national headlines.
Several Democratic gubernatorial candidates, such as Allyson Schwartz, Katie McGinty, Rob McCord, John Hanger, Ed Pawlowski and Tom Wolf issued statements condemning his remarks.
Mr. Corbett's office issued an apology and clarification.
"During a recent interview, I was asked to comment on the ruling by [Commonwealth Court President] Judge [Dan] Pellegrini that the Montgomery County Clerk of Courts did not have the power to decide the constitutionality of state laws," the governor said in the statement. "My words were not intended to offend anyone. If they did, I apologize."
He suggested he made his comparison inartfully, obscuring what he said was his true meaning.
"I explained that current Pennsylvania statute delineates categories of individuals unable to obtain a marriage license," Mr. Corbett said int he statement. "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."
The controversy is a setback for the governor, just as Mr. Corbett was beginning to see some political momentum, rolling out his Healthy PA Medicaid overhaul and hiring several new top communications advisors, said pollster Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.
The governor's remarks seem to speak to his background as a prosecutor, said Mr. Madonna.
"What's missing here is a clear sense about the human, personal side [of the gay marriage issue]," Mr. Madonna said.
The comments could be harmful with independent and more moderate suburban voters who tend to be more culturally liberal, he said.
"You run the risk of alienating those voters," Mr. Madonna said. "You run the risk of energizing the opposition and discouraging your base .... Given the way this is being portrayed, it's hard to imagine this being helpful."
Kate Giammarise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-4254. Twitter: @KateGiammarise. First Published October 4, 2013 12:30 PM