Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) has not exactly positioned himself as a champion for civil rights for his LGBT constituents. As regular readers may recall, the Republican governor’s administration has equated marriage licenses for same-sex couples with marriage licenses for “12-year-olds,” and soon after, Corbett himself compared marriage equality with incest.
With this in mind, the governor’s latest pronouncement on gay rights came as quite a surprise.
Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania has thrown his support behind a state bill that would ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, adding unexpected support from a Republican who once said gay marriage was the equivalent of a brother marrying a sister.Mr. Corbett, in an interview on Tuesday with The Philadelphia Inquirer, said he would back House Bill 300, which would outlaw discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
The governor’s spokesperson said Corbett “has always supported anti-discrimination laws,” but simply hadn’t made his support for this proposal publicly known until now.
Whether or not anyone in Pennsylvania actually believes this is a separate question, so let’s put that aside for now. There’s an anti-discrimination measure pending in the state legislature and the governor now wants everyone to know he endorses it. Fine.
What strikes me as interesting, though, is the larger electoral context. Corbett is one of the nation’s least popular governors and recent polling shows him trailing – badly – in his 2014 re-election fight. The Republican incumbent clearly needs to reconnect with Pennsylvania’s mainstream.
So what does Corbett do? He endorses a measure barring anti-gay discrimination.
I mention this because the culture war has gradually been turned on its head, in a way social conservatives should find terrifying. It wasn’t too long ago that struggling politicians would exploit anti-gay animus, using issues like these as a divisive wedge to get votes. In much of the country, those days are over – under fire and fearing defeat, Pennsylvania’s Republican governor wants to appeal to the mainstream, so he’s moving left on social issues.
The religious right movement, in other words, is losing.