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What New Jersey’s Ruling On Gay Marriage Means

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On January 7th, the New Jersey state Senate  defeated a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage. The vote was 20-14 and nine Democrats, including Senate President Steve Sweeney, either voted “no” or abstained.

If you’re unfamiliar with the politics surrounding this issue in the Garden State, it helps to know that as of three months ago, passage was Photo courtesy: http://media.nowpublic.netconsidered a “slam dunk” for advocates of gay marriage. This is according to Len Deo, gay marriage opponent and president of the New Jersey Family Council. Jon Corzine’s deserved loss in November’s gubernatorial election changed all that.

Corzine had held the belief that New Jersey’s civil union law didn’t provide enough rights to those it was meant to assist. He said so during last February’s annual Garden State Equality Gala, and assured those in attendance he’d sign a gay marriage bill – as soon as he was re-elected.

Corzine’s strategy was both simple and stupid: He didn’t want a hot-button cultural issue like this one to get in the way of what was to be his campaign platform: Fixing the state’s economy. If Corzine had pushed for a vote last Spring (which would have likely had the support of most Democrats and as many as five Republican state senators), he would have had to defend himself in the election against a terrible state economy and likely accusations that he a) Hated marriage, b) Hated straight couples in New Jersey, and/or c) Hated America. In the end, he only had to defend himself against accusations that he was a terrible governor.

Contrary to Corzine’s sheepishness, gay marriage advocates took it upon themselves to embarrassingly destroy their own civility after his electoral downfall. Post-November, activists unleashed new, desperate attacks against lawmakers whom they believed would now vote against the bill with a Republican governor. Garden State Equality picketed the homes and work places of many waffling state representatives, as well as the elementary school recital of Rep. Tom Kean, Jr.’s  daughter. The ploys backfired.

Opponents – like the New Jersey Catholic Conference  and the New Jersey Family Council – used their own Jersey slime tactics. And unfortunately for proponents of equal rights, the New Jersey Catholic Conference’s professional lobbying in Trenton was a tad more successful than "The Situation’s" late night “creeping” in Seaside.

Priests affiliated with the lobbying group read letters from the state’s pulpit, collected 156,000 signatures against the measure and held rallies to ask their God’s help in the bill’s defeat. In Newark, Archbishop John Myers even passive-aggressively offered to say mass at a Catholic Democrat’s residence.

And in the end, Jersey’s Democrats proved about as useless as their legislative branch federal counterparts.

So Is State-Approved Same-Sex Hitching Dead?

In the state Senate, yes. At least for four years.

As soon as the election was over, Governor-elect Chris Christie  began lobbying Republican lawmakers to vote “no” on the bill, Steven Goldstein, president of Garden State Equality, told Talking Points Memo. Sources believe Christie was afraid opponents of same-sex marriage would push to “change the state constitution to define marriage as heterosexual,” and Christie wanted no part in plopping gay marriage on his governorship’s breakfast plate. Democrats, too, began running scared knowing they’d now have to go it alone without the advocacy of a governor.

But there is still hope yet.

In October 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court  voted 4-3, saying that although gay marriage wasn’t a “fundamental right,” same-sex couples Protestors are not happy with the New Jersey Senate's ruling. Photo: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3019/3007622008_e4d110c84c.jpgmust be treated equally and the state legislature could give same-sex couples equal rights (which, of course, failed). The four judges signing the majority opinion still sit on the state’s Supreme Court, but other state courts have now ruled for marriage equality, including Iowa, Connecticut and California – and have recognized sexual orientation to be a “suspect class”, which, in legal terms, means laws discriminating against homosexuals are unconstitutional, “unless the state can prove a compelling interest,” says Paul Hogarth writing for Daily Kos  on January 11. Other states’ constitutions have no technical effect on Jersey’s laws but often prove influential. And a case now going on in California may prove most influential of all.

California voters rejected gay marriage by voting a 52 percent majority “yes” on Proposition 8 in November 2008. This vote effectively amended the California constitution (as has been the case with 30 other states) to ban gay marriage. Marriages that took place between June 16, 2008 (when the California Supreme Court held that limiting marriage to opposite sex couples violated the state constitution) and November 4, 2008, are still recognized.

In San Francisco, District Court Judge Vaughn Walker  began hearing Perry v. Schwarzenegger  on Monday, which seeks to overturn Proposition 8 A still from the advertisement “Family Values.” After the Proposition 8 vote, new ads have aimed to make same-sex marriage palatable by emphasizing the conventionality of gay couples. Photo: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/01/18/100118fa_fact_talboton federal grounds. In doing so, the case will challenge the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition of gay marriage under the Clinton-signed Defense of Marriage Act. This case will likely be the most important yet in the fight for gay marriage.

Regardless of the outcome, according to Associated Press writer Lisa Luff, “the case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.” The last time the U.S. Supreme Court had to deal with gay marriage: 38 years ago when it dismissed an appeal in Baker v. Nelson, in which Minneapolis couple Richard Baker and James Michael McConnell cited the First Amendment, Eighth Amendment, Ninth Amendment and 14th Amendment to claim discrimination when the two attempted to get married.

Save Connecticut, all appeals to the American voter have failed on the part of gay rights groups by healthy majorities. Same-sex marriages are legal today only in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont, and all are due to court rulings or legislation, not a popular vote.

Washington, DC has approved gay marriage as well and marriages may start as early as February. The only obstacle standing in the people of DC’s way is a House representative from Utah, Jason Chaffetz, whom Gawker writer Alex Pareene referred to as “a self-hating weirdo, an a**hole, a probable closet case.” Ken Layne  of Wonkette wrote Chaffetz was a “San Francisco Bay Area Liberal Jew” who “goes to BYU and converts to Mormonism and becomes a right-wing crank, the absolute worst kind, the ‘I used to be a liberal’ young creepy kind.”

Chaffetz’s father, John, was briefly married to known-liberal Kitty Dukakis  and actually wrote a book titled Gay Reality: The Team Guido Story, a pro-gay rights book. Kitty and John also spawned the Utah Representative’s half brother.

The U.S. Constitution allows the federal government to intervene in Washington, DC legislation, and Chaffetz is the only politician in both houses willing to dive into this one, though he’s admitted his obstruction likely won’t be successful.

As has been the case in every state regarding same-sex marriage, New Jersey’s case will likely go to Plan B: Court. According to Inquirer writer Adrienne Lu, Garden State Equality is planning to partner with Lanbda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national gay-rights advocacy group, to pursue legal action. This case will likely be brought before the courts after Perry v. Schwarzenegger ends its run in San Francisco and is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by whichever side loses.

Advocates for same-sex marriage remain nervously optimistic about an eventual federal outcome as more states reluctantly accept equal rights rulings. This is mostly due to the fact that similar reversed laws reviewed by the judicial branch, like bans on interracial marriage (1967) and sodomy (2003), have been overturned partially on the basis of the overwhelming number of states that already repealed them.

Here in Pennsylvania...

We shouldn’t expect anything to happen too soon. Gay couples in Philadelphia are afforded employee benefits by the city government, though an Photo: http://blog.pennlive.com/midstate_impact/2008/11/large_rally.jpgamendment for or against equal rights has yet to come to fruition in the state House. Gay marriage in Pennsylvania remains illegal.

Seven months ago Democratic representative Daylin Leach of Montgomery County proposed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, though it hasn’t moved out of the Judiciary Committee and has but one co-sponsor.

A Muhlenberg College poll found that 42 percent of Pennsylvanians support a same-sex marriage referendum, seven percent more than polls indicated five years ago.

That being said, our oft-gloomy governor and other politicians don’t expect the bill’s propellers to lift it out of the jungle just yet. In the wake of New Jersey’s dealings, Rendell was quoted by WHYY as saying proponents of gay marriage shouldn’t “hold their breath” because of the “social mores of the majority” of those living in the Keystone state. He also said Pennsylvania is essentially a “rural state.”

“In the long term [legalizing gay marriage] is inevitable,” State Representative Leach told the Inquirer. “When you look at the history of any civil rights movement in this country, there is always resistance at first.”

Fifteen years from now, Leach told WHYY, “we’ll wonder why this was controversial.”