Poll: Officials must enforce law on gay marriage
The law trumps morality on gay marriage, according to a new statewide poll.
Three in four people surveyed in a Franklin & Marshall College poll released on Thursday said it's unacceptable for state or local officials to ignore a law with which they disagree.
Pollsters asked the question after noting that Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, unnamed in the poll, recently began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite a state law defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.
The lopsided result comes just months after another Franklin & Marshall poll found 54 percent of people support same-sex marriage.
“But they don't believe it should be accomplished by breaking the law,” said G. Terry Madonna, the poll's director at the Lancaster college. “The ways to do it would be to have the Legislature change it or a court overthrow it.”
Hanes' office issued more than 150 marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the last six weeks. Gov. Tom Corbett sued to stop Hanes, and Commonwealth Court is scheduled to hear arguments at 10 a.m. Sept. 4 in Harrisburg.
But Hanes said he cannot simultaneously follow the marriage law, which bars gay unions, and the state constitution, which says officials can't deny people their civil rights and can't discriminate based on sex.
“I really don't have the authority to deny same-gender marriage licenses,” Hanes said.
His oath of office includes a pledge to uphold the constitution, he said. “I cannot be compelled to enforce an unconstitutional act. ... The question is not whether I agree with the law.”
One in three people who identify as liberals and one in four Democrats support breaking a law they believe is unjust, compared with just 6 percent of conservatives and 10 percent of Republicans, Madonna said.
But allowing elected officials to decide which laws to enforce constitutes “the inmates running the asylum,” said the Rev. William Devlin, who was arrested in July outside the elevators to Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office in Harrisburg to protest Kane's decision not to defend the state's marriage law.
The Montgomery County native leads a congregation in Bronx, N.Y., at the Infinity Bible Church, an independent church. “I believe the efforts of those of us who believe in natural marriages are winning the day.”
Denying marriages to same-sex couples amounts to “legalized discrimination that blatantly violates the equal protection clause (of the U.S. Constitution),” said Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who has officiated at eight same-sex marriages since Aug. 6.
“It's as obvious as (saying) women should be able to vote. Who's still evolving on the idea that women should be able to vote?” Fetterman said.
The law is less flexible than personal notions of right and wrong, University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said.
“Every individual public servant can't decide for himself or herself what the law is. It'd be chaos,” Burkoff said.
What makes bans on same-sex marriage different from most other laws, Burkoff said, are rapid changes in public opinion in favor of the unions, the progress of legislation striking down the bans and the growing body of court decisions striking them down — all of which point to the bans' eventual disappearance.
In nine years, support for same-sex unions in Pennsylvania jumped from about 40 percent to more than 50 percent in Franklin & Marshall polls.
“The change that has taken place ... is a bigger change than any cultural issue I've ever polled on,” Madonna said. “The question is not if (the ban) will fall but when.”
That further muddies the issue for politicians, Burkoff said. He noted the dilemma confronting antebellum judges in the North who were charged with enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act. It required runaway slaves in free states to be returned to bondage in the South.
“Some of those judges followed the law and returned them, even though it was abhorrent to them, and some of them said, ‘I can't do it,' ” Burkoff said.
The poll of 594 registered voters took place Aug. 21-26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Mike Wereschagin and Brad Bumsted are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Wereschagin can be reached at 412-320-7900 or email@example.com. Bumsted can be reached at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Shaler man charged with homicide, abuse of corpse in McKeesport woman’s death
- Healthy, confident Steelers LB Shazier ready for full speed ahead
- Pirates show depth in earning victory over Rockies; Polanco has big night
- Historic WWII-era landing ship tank docking at Heinz Field
- Timing drives former KHL star Plotnikov
- Despite being suspended, Boyd still making contributions for Pitt
- Pirates notebook: Catcher Cervelli among ejection leaders
- ATI picket injured at Harrison mill
- Man gets probation for sex with teen girl in New Kensington
- Deputy fatally shot from behind at Houston gas station
- Flooded out of Big Easy, veterinarian builds new life in Lawrenceville