PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - Gay marriage advocates expressed outrage on Thursday over a court document filed by lawyers for the state of Pennsylvania that likens same-sex marriage to a partnership between 12-year-olds.
Lawyers for the Pennsylvania Department of Health included the statement in their lawsuit against a county clerk who has been issuing marriage licenses to gay couples despite a state ban on same-sex nuptials.
"Had the Clerk issued marriage licenses to twelve-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each twelve-year-old has a legally enforceable 'interest' in his 'license' and is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his 'license,' else his due process rights be violated?" the state lawyers wrote.
Charles Joughin, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, said not only is the statement offensive, it is flawed.
"Same-sex couples enter into marriage for the same reasons as opposite-sex couples: love, commitment and family. Children are not capable of giving consent, a critical component of legal marriage," Joughin said in a statement.
Pennsylvania General Counsel James Schultz said the media mischaracterized the statement.
"Contrary to recent headlines, the administration does NOT equate same-sex marriage to the marriage of minors," Schultz said in a statement. The state's intention, he said, was to give examples of "other individuals whose marriages were excluded under state law."
But Timothy Haggerty, a historian at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who has studied the gay rights movement, called the statement "incredibly condescending."
"It's suggesting that adult members of our society are incapable of entering into contract because of their sexual orientation," Haggerty said. "It's calling gay relationships adolescent, which has long been a tool of homophobia."
The state last month sued Montgomery County Clerk D. Bruce Hanes in an attempt to stop him from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in suburban Philadelphia, a practice he started after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages in states where it is legal. Soon after the high court ruled, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced she would not defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
Thirteen U.S. states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage. Pennsylvania is among six potential states targeted by gay marriage advocates for a future push to legalize same sex nuptials in 2015 and 2016, according to the Freedom to Marry advocacy group.
A poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College in May found that 54 percent of Pennsylvanians surveyed support gay marriage. Another conducted in August found 76 percent disagreed with the Montgomery County clerk's decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses in violation of current state law.
On Thursday, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced that legally married gay and lesbian couples will be recognized as married for federal tax purposes even if the couples live in or move to a state that does not recognize marriage for same-sex couples.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler