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Opposition to Pa. gay marriage waning, but not gone

In terms of political fashion, gay marriage is just fabulous. Or so it seems, anyway, to judge by public opinion polls, television shows like Glee, and the news.

 In terms of political fashion, gay marriage is just fabulous.

Or so it seems, anyway, to judge by public opinion polls, television shows like Glee, and the news.

Consider the parade of same-sex couples with marriage licenses issued by Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, in defiance of Pennsylvania's law limiting matrimony to a man and a woman. And then there is the refusal of Democratic State Attorney General Kathleen Kane to defend that 1996 statute from constitutional challenge in court.

But make no mistake: Though polls show increasing support for same-sex marriage, plenty of people remain opposed to changing the long-standing definition.

On July 12, Pastor Bill Devlin of Lower Moreland Township got on his knees in the lobby of the Strawberry Square building in Harrisburg. Denied a meeting with the attorney general, he wriggled into an elevator that led to Kane's 16th-floor offices, whereupon Capitol police carried him out of the building and charged him with disorderly conduct.

"Pray for her, as I am, that she will have a change of heart," Devlin said after the arrest.

So far, Kane has stayed the course, even jousting (via letter) with Gov. Corbett's counsel, Jim Schultz, about what her duties are. Schultz's office, rather than Kane, is representing the state against the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 1996 law.

Republicans have heaped scorn on Kane for substituting her own judgment for the ruling of a court. A legislator from Altoona has gone so far as to call for her impeachment. Even some liberal editorialists have dinged Kane for not pursuing her opposition to the law in the procedurally proper way.

Yet Corbett, facing a tough reelection fight in 2014, has been measured in his responses. The governor stresses, for instance, that Hanes is violating the law, but does not discuss at length his own opposition to same-sex marriage.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision invalidating the federal Defense of Marriage Act, some Republican strategists have urged the party to downplay its official opposition to same-sex marriage, to avoid handing Democrats a paintbrush with which to portray the GOP as intolerant or out of touch.

The current of public opinion seems to be moving toward acceptance or support of gay marriage, though a solid minority remains opposed, including most of the GOP's conservative base.

A recent Franklin and Marshall College poll found 53 percent of Pennsylvania registered voters supported same-sex couples' right to wed. Nationally, a USA Today poll in July found that Americans by 55 percent to 40 percent said marriages between people of the same sex should be recognized by law.

Some say polls on this issue should not be trusted because respondents may feel social pressure against admitting they don't like gay marriage.

"The other side has the passion," said Mike McMonagle, president of the Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania. "The attitude is, 'Well, if you don't support gay marriage, you hate.' That's not true." Defenders of traditional marriage "are afraid," he said.

McMonagle said it's hard to counter sound-bites about love with the argument that heterosexual marriage is the foundation of society because it is best suited for children.

He has tried - McMonagle was among about a dozen people who prayed the rosary in Hanes' office June 26 as a peaceful protest. So far, he and Devlin and their supporters have not been backed on the streets by reinforcements from the big national social-conservative groups.

At a rally Monday afternoon in Norristown, about 100 people cheered, chanted, and waved signs and flags as five Democratic legislators heaped praise on Hanes for his acts of civil disobedience.

There was not a single counterprotester, according to Inquirer reporter Jessica Parks, who was there. No shaken fists. No public prayers. Not even heckling from a passing car.