It was a 25-page legal brief filed Wednesday by state lawyers calling on Montgomery County's Register of Wills to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
But it was one paragraph, on page 15, that raised eyebrows and ire across the commonwealth.
James Schultz is the state's top lawyer and he was trying to make the point that same-sex couples don't have legal standing in the Montgomery County case. He wrote: "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? Obviously not."
Same-sex advocates call the language, comparing them to children, insulting.
"The legal fact that gay and lesbian adults have about as many rights as 12-year-olds to marriage may be true," said Louie Marven, Executive Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center of Central Pennsylvania. "But that's not a respectful way of tallking about a community of people who has been struggling for these rights and will continue to struggle until we get them."
A spokesman for Schultz called the criticism a "distortion" Thursday morning. But by Thursday afternoon, Governor Corbett agreed with the complaints and called the offending paragaraph "inappropriate."
But the state still supports the brief's broader point that Montgomery County's Bruce Hanes must cease and desist from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples because gay marriage is currently illegal in Pennsylvania.
"This Montgomery County case is about one issue - whether the Register of Wills there has the authority to do what he is doing, which is to defy state law."
Polls suggest the state is a bit schizophrenic on the issue. A majority of Pennsylvanians agree that local officials can't ignore a state law because they disagree with it. But a majority also think gay marriage should be legal in the commonwealth.
The governor has frequently been at odds with the gay community but Thursday's issue apparently united the two sides. Both agree that comparing same-sex couples to 12-year-olds is not the best way to make a legal point.
"It's a bad idea," Marven said. "Don't publish that. Why? Why you doing that? It's disrespectful. Find a more nuanced way to honor the fact that people are striving for equal rights. Start from there and build your talking points from that."