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Kane to Corbett: Don't tell me what to do

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 11:54 a.m.
State Attorney Gen. Kathleen Kane announced on Thursday, July 11, 2013, in the National Constitution Center that she will not defend Pennsylvania’s law effectively banning same-sex marriage against a legal challenge in federal court, meaning the task will be left up to Gov. Tom Corbett.

HARRISBURG — A spat between Gov. Tom Corbett's lawyers and Attorney General Kathleen Kane's top staff over enforcement of a gay marriage ban has escalated, through a letter in which Kane told Corbett not to tell her what to do.

“It is not your job to tell the Office of Attorney General — an independent agency — what its duties and obligations are,” Kane's first deputy, Adrian King, told Corbett's general counsel, James Schultz, in the letter.

Schultz merely cited the duties and jurisdiction of the attorney general and general counsel under state law, said Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley.

The dispute concerns Kane's refusal to defend Pennsylvania's 1996 law banning same-sex marriage because she says it is unconstitutional.

“That's merely her opinion,” said Corbett, a former attorney general.

Kane said she delegated defense of a lawsuit seeking to overturn the marriage ban to Corbett's office, as allowed under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act.

Corbett told reporters he's never seen or heard of an attorney general handing off defense of a statute's constitutionality.

“No,” he said. “That is a very short answer. We have said we'll defend it, and we'll defend it.”

In Montgomery County, a spokeswoman for Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes said Hanes intends to continue issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples until a court tells him he cannot. He has issued 34 so far.

The Corbett administration, through the Department of Health, on Tuesday sued Hanes to try to block the licenses the state claims are illegal. Hanes began issuing licenses after Kane's July 11 statement on the gay marriage ban.

Through the court action, Corbett said, “We are asking them to stop it right now.”

On Monday, state Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democratic congressional candidate in Montgomery County, officiated his first same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.

“I did not find myself thinking about whether Gov. Corbett would approve. ... I am required to examine the license and determine if it is facially valid. On Monday, Sarah and Marcia presented me with a facially valid marriage license,” Leach said. He officiated another same-sex marriage in New York.

The flap between Corbett and Kane extends to other issues.

In one of her first moves as attorney general, Kane blocked Corbett's bid to privatize the state lottery. And, to fulfill a campaign promise, Kane hired a special deputy who is investigating whether Corbett dragged out an investigation of serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky as attorney general in order to get past the 2010 gubernatorial election that he won.

Sandusky, a former Penn State University assistant football coach, is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence on his conviction last year of 45 counts of child molestation. He was arrested in 2011.

Corbett has said he stands by the investigation and told no one to slow it down.

“(Kane) could be positioning herself for a gubernatorial run,” said Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the Institute of Politics at the University of Pittsburgh. “Or she might just feel strongly about this issue.”

Her office declined comment. Corbett faces re-election next year.

King has said politics had nothing to do with Kane's decision to not defend the state's ban on gay marriages.

In the latest disagreement, Schultz said Wednesday in a letter to King that Kane “should do her duty … irrespective of her personal opinion or prediction of how a court will decide the issue.”

King responded that Schultz's assertion that her decision sets a troubling precedent is without merit.

“The marriage law is one of the last discriminatory statutes in the Commonwealth,” King said. “Just as discriminatory laws based on race, religion, gender, disability and ethnic origin have been struck down by the courts one by one, so, too, will the marriage law.

“In short,” King said, “this is a watershed moment.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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