- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - After a late election night, Gov. Tom Corbett woke up in his Pittsburgh home at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday to read a federal judge’s 39-page decision telling him he had lost the fight to defend Pennsylvania’s law banning recognition of same-sex marriage.

Corbett, a Roman Catholic and an opponent of gay marriage, had already been told by his lawyers that he was unlikely to win at the next stop, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. After reading the decision, Corbett agreed, his aides said.

Then another battle awaited the Republican: fighting off any appearance that he dropped his defense of the law to bury a divisive political issue that could work against him in his uphill climb to win re-election Nov. 4.

Corbett decided it purely on the case’s legal merits, his staff and campaign aides insist, and they suggested it could anger his conservative supporters while scoring points with liberals who won’t vote for him anyway.

“For him politically, this may end up being a negative, but he did what was right,” said his chief of staff, Leslie Gromis Baker.

Corbett, of course, did not make his decision in a vacuum.

Last Monday, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III revealed he would issue his decision the next day. That launched an influx of calls to Corbett by people trying to sway his decision, including social conservatives and Catholic Church representatives who wanted him to appeal and moderate Republican officeholders who did not want him to appeal.

Once Jones issued his decision Tuesday, the clock began ticking on Corbett’s response. By the time Corbett issued his statement Wednesday afternoon, more than 100 same-sex couples in his home county of Allegheny alone had already applied for marriage licenses, and one couple had been legally married.

Regardless of what drove Corbett’s decision, Democrats viewed it as a smart political move.

“It was the right legal decision, it was the right moral decision and, as it happens, it was the right political decision,” said former Gov. Ed Rendell, Corbett’s predecessor, who remains perhaps Pennsylvania’s most influential Democrat. “The last thing Corbett wants to do is rile up the Democratic base.”

What about the social conservatives who otherwise support Corbett?

“In the end, they’re going to vote for Tom,” Rendell said.

An appeal would have been problematic for several other reasons.

Pollsters say same-sex marriage is an issue popular not only with Democrats but also with many independent voters Corbett will need to win over in the fall campaign.

Fighting it came with a cost. State Treasurer Rob McCord said this week that Corbett had already spent $588,000 in legal fees for an outside law firm to defend the law.

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