Pennsylvania taxpayers will pay a private law firm at least $400 an hour for Gov. Tom Corbett to defend a 1996 state law that prevents gay and lesbian couples from marrying in the state.
The Corbett administration announced it is hiring the law firm, Lamb McErlane PC, headed by William H. Lamb, a former state Supreme Court justice, to take on the case. Not only will the state pay Lamb $400 an hour, his associates will also earn $325 an hour, in addition to state lawyers who will also be paid for working on the case.
This lawsuit and frivolous spending is especially preposterous since the governor can and should be spending hard-earned taxpayer money elsewhere.
According to the 1996 law states that marriage must be between a man and a woman, and denies recognition to same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed the challenge in July, is arguing that the law is unconstitutional and violates "the equal protection and due process clauses that protect against discrimination and infringement on liberties." The plaintiffs involved in the case come from different walks of life and include a doctor, a Vietnam veteran, a truck driver, and a woman who lost her partner of 29 years.
"What we're looking for is the validation from the legal system that we are equal in our marriage as anyone else," said Susan Whitewood, one of the plaintiffs in the case.
This suit followed on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional and Pennsylvania's Attorney General Kathleen Kane announcement that she would not defend the state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
"If there is a law that I feel that does not conform with the Pennsylvania Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, then I ethically cannot do that as a lawyer," Kane said.
State GOP Chairman Rob Gleason, however, released a statement saying it "was unacceptable for Attorney General Kathleen Kane to put her personal politics ahead of her taxpayer-funded job by abdicating her responsibilities."
"She is blatantly politicizing the highest law enforcement office in our Commonwealth at the expense of a core responsibility of the Attorney General's office," Gleason said. "Pennsylvanians are left with the question, if the Kathleen Kane's political beliefs are the standard for law enforcement, what law will she ignore next?"
According to a recent poll conducted by Franklin and Marshall College, 53% of voters registered in Pennsylvania support same-sex couples' right to wed. A USA Today poll in July found that 55% of Americans said marriages between people of the same sex should be recognized by law.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Corbett administration has used taxpayer money to fight legal battles against same-sex marriage.
Currently his office is also fighting a separate legal battle to stop a "rogue" Montgomery County clerk from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. The administration also sparked outrage when state attorneys compared same-sex couples to 12-year-old children.
However, regardless of one's opinion of same-sex marriage, the money could have certainly be better spent elsewhere. Like on education, for example.
Last month, Pennsylvania's school district announced plans to lay off about 3,783 professions and scrap 23 schools in order to reduce its $304 million deficit — a move budget defenders called "regrettable, but necessary."
The School Reform Commission that drafted the plan "made tough choices, but they made the right choice," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said. "We need to downsize the system."
Since taking office in 2011, Corbett has cut billions of dollars from education and social spending in an attempt to deal with the state budget deficit.
"It's pretty simple," said Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Pa.). "Governor Corbett was elected, and he immediately began cutting education funding. At the same time, he gave tax giveaways to the largest corporations in the commonwealth."
Instead of fighting multiple lawsuits against same-sex marriage, the Corbett administration should invest their time and taxpayer money on issues that are severely in need of it.