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MARRIAGE DIGEST: N.J. conservatives waiting for ruling from state high court

TRENTON, N.J. (BP)–Conservatives in New Jersey are anxiously watching their state Supreme Court, hoping for a victory in a much-anticipated “gay marriage” case but preparing for the worst if the decision goes against them.

The state high court is expected to rule by Oct. 25, which is the day before Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz turns 70 and must retire under state law, the Associated Press reported. The seven-member court, which heard oral arguments in the case in February, could make New Jersey only the second state to legalize “gay marriage.” That would be a huge boost to homosexual activists, who have suffered a string of defeats nationwide this summer.

Conservatives are ready to pressure the legislature to place a constitutional marriage amendment on the ballot.

“If we get to an imminent threat, if we get to the point where marriage is going to be decided by the court, shouldn’t [citizens] get to weigh in an issue of such magnitude?” Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, told AP.

The bar, though, is high for an amendment: It must pass with a simple majority in the state Assembly and Senate for two straight legislative years or must be approved by a three-fifths majority in each chamber in one legislative year, AP said. The latter path likely would be nearly impossible, given the liberal tendencies of the legislature. In 2003 the legislature passed a domestic partnership bill giving same-sex couples some of the legal benefits of marriage.

Conservatives are banking on the fact that politicians may vote differently in an election year -– “with the entire legislature up for re-election,” John Tomicki, chairman of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage, told AP.

“Gay marriage” supporters lost at both the trial court and the appeals court level in New Jersey. That last loss came in June 2005, when an appeals court panel, in a 2-1 decision, ruled that the claim to a constitutional right to “gay marriage” has “no foundation in the text of the [New Jersey] Constitution, this nation’s history and traditions or contemporary standards of liberty and justice.” The New Jersey Supreme Court, though, will have the final say in the case.

New Jersey conservatives likely won’t get any help from Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who has said he opposes “gay marriage” but also opposes a constitutional amendment, AP reported.

In addition, a significant number of New Jersey residents — if not a majority — apparently favor “gay marriage.” A Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of 803 adults in June found residents supporting “gay marriage” by a margin of 50-44 percent. The poll asked simply: “Would you favor or oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?” In September 2003, opposition was at 50 percent.

Deno, though, said poll numbers can change and that a marriage amendment vote would force people to think more about the debate.

“A lot of people are not paying attention to it because it’s not a real issue to them,” he said.

SIGNIFICANT ELECTION IN MASS. — Voters in Massachusetts this November could determine the fate of a proposed constitutional marriage amendment there. Every senator and representative is up for election Nov 7.

The legislature is scheduled to take up the amendment two days after the election, on Nov. 9. Although the new legislature won’t be seated until January, the amendment must pass twice if it is to make it on the ballot in 2008. The amendment, then, must pass this session and next session.

Not surprisingly, some citizens are determining whom they will vote for solely on the issue of “gay marriage.” The amendment would place language in the state constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman, reversing a 2003 court ruling that legalized “marriage” between homosexuals.

“People should have the right to vote on the issue and I won’t support any politician that denies people the right to that vote,” Kenneth Taylor, a resident of Sudbury, Mass., told the Wayland Town Crier newspaper.

But others view it much differently.

“In November, I will not vote for a candidate who opposes gay civil marriage,” Melody Anderson of Sudbury told the newspaper. “I believe that writing discrimination into the constitution in the form of the Protection for Marriage Act is an immediate and major threat to the concept of equality and must not be allowed.”

The amendment needs the support of only 25 percent of the legislators in two consecutive sessions to make it on the ballot. Conservative leaders still believe they have the votes, even though the legislature adjourned in July without considering the amendment.

“Senate President Robert Travaglini has promised a vote on the amendment, so we have every reason to believe that that vote will take place on Nov. 9,” Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said in a statement. “… We have more than enough votes to pass the amendment before the end of this legislative session on Dec. 31.”

If that’s the case, then the election this November will determine the amendment’s fate. In the district that includes Sudbury, Mass., the Republican incumbent state House member supports the amendment, while the Democratic candidate opposes it. On the state Senate side, the Democratic incumbent opposes the amendment, while the Republican candidate supports it.

ILLINOIS INITIATIVE OFF BALLOT? — A proposed non-binding referendum supportive of a constitutional marriage amendment may not make it on the ballot in Illinois this fall after local and state officials ruled that too many signatures were invalid.

Protect Marriage Illinois turned in approximately 345,000 signatures in May, which appeared to be well more than the 283,000 signatures required. But local board of elections officials tossed out many of the signatures as invalid, and a sample of 64,000 signatures by the state board of elections determined that the referendum didn’t meet the threshold.

Protect Marriage Illinois and the Illinois Family Institute filed suit in federal court, arguing that state law is “unconstitutionally burdensome” on Illinois citizens and essentially prohibits them from petitioning the government. For instance, according to Protect Marriage Illinois, one woman’s signature was ruled invalid because she signed “Dee” when her name in fact is “Deidra.”

“[I]f you want to get mad at someone, get mad at Springfield lawmakers who set up these ludicrous requirements,” a statement on the Protect Marriage Illinois says.

A federal judge ruled against conservatives in July, but they filed an appeal to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal judge was a nominee of President Clinton. All three justices on the panel who will hear the appeal were nominees of President Reagan.

The non-binding referendum would ask the state legislature to pass a marriage amendment. Unlike some other states, Illinois law does not allow citizens to amend the state constitution directly through a signature drive.
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage

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  • Michael Foust