TRENTON, N.J. (BP)–A long-awaited “gay marriage” ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court left neither side happy Oct. 25, but it may have given a boost to supporters of proposed constitutional marriage amendments nationwide.
Citizens in eight states will vote on marriage amendments Nov. 7, and supporters already are pointing to the New Jersey decision as proof that constitutional protection is needed to defend marriage.
In its 4-3 decision the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the state legislature to legalize either “gay marriage” or Vermont-style civil unions. Conservatives are quick to note that unlike 20 other states, New Jersey had no constitutional marriage amendment that would have prevented such a decision.
The ruling adds to a growing body of decisions that could lead other state courts to rule similarly. In 1998, Vermont’s highest court issued a decision ordering the legislature to grant homosexual couples the legal benefits of marriage. (The legislature legalized civil unions.) In 2003, Massachusetts’ highest court issued its landmark decision legalizing “gay marriage.” Those two decisions, combined with the one out of New Jersey, could impact states that don’t pass marriage amendments, conservatives say.
In fact, lawyers pushing for “gay marriage” in others states already are pledging to use the New Jersey ruling in future lawsuits and legal briefs. The majority opinion said same-sex couples must receive, “on equal terms, the rights and benefits” of marriage.
“It’s helpful to have a sister court say full equality must [prevail],” Kate Kendell, an attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the San Francisco Examiner. Kendell’s organization sued in California seeking “gay marriage” legalization. The lawsuit is still pending.
Supporters of Wisconsin’s amendment, which would prohibit both “gay marriage” and civil unions, say the New Jersey ruling underscores arguments they’ve made all along.
“I think this serves as a great wake up call,” Rocco DeFilippis, a spokesman for the Vote Yes for Marriage campaign in Wisconsin, told Baptist Press. “… This is about the definition of marriage and it’s about who gets to decide it. Is it the people of Wisconsin or is it going to be a judge?”
Pro-family leaders nationwide had become concerned in recent months that conservative voters had grown complacent following a string of significant legal marriage victories. First, the New York high court during the summer sided with conservatives and refused to legalize “gay marriage.” Weeks later, the Washington Supreme Court did the same.
Although the Massachusetts high court handed homosexual activists a landmark win and legalized “gay marriage,” its decision was handed down so long ago that over time its political impact lessened.
Even though the New York and Washington rulings were celebrated by conservatives, they may have served — just months before the election — to lull conservatives to sleep. The New Jersey decision likely changed that.
“The Massachusetts decision spurred people to action. In the same way, this New Jersey decision is a visible reminder of the underlying battle from radical activists to re-define marriage in our country,” said Jon Paul, executive director of Coloradans for Marriage, the group promoting a marriage amendment known as Amendment 43 in that state.
“New Jersey residents did not make these marriage related decisions — a handful of judges did,” Paul said. “Like New Jersey, Colorado’s statute is not bullet-proof. It can easily be shot down by a few radical judges.”
Other states considering marriage amendments are Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, the court’s decision has left conservatives in New Jersey with mixed emotions. They’re pleased the court didn’t follow Massachusetts’ lead and legalize “gay marriage” — which is what the three justices in the minority wanted to do — but they’re disappointed that the state apparently will be the next one to grant same-sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage.
“It could have been much worse,” Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, told BP. “The court could have mandated same-sex marriage, and they did not.”
But Deo said that was the “only good in the entire ruling,” which for the most part affirmed the advance of homosexual activism in the state in recent years.
“I think what they were trying to do is they were trying to please everybody, so [in the end] they pleased no one,” Deo said.
The ruling could have an impact on the New Jersey U.S. Senate race. Republican candidate Thomas Kean Jr. criticized the ruling and said he supports a state marriage amendment, while Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez said he opposes an amendment.
The Democrat-controlled New Jersey legislature now must make the next move. The court gave the legislature six months to take action, although Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. and Senate President Richard J. Codey released a joint statement calling the deadline “unreasonable,” The New York Times reported.
“The only remaining issues now confronting the legislature are ones of terminology and clarification,” they said.
New Jersey already had a domestic partnership law granting some of the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples and heterosexual couples age 62 and older who aren’t married. Deo, saying conservatives once again are “on the defensive” in the state, said that while he opposes the domestic partnership law, he probably would recommend the legislature simply expand it.
“Don’t create another classification, and definitely do not change the marriage statute,” he said.
A marriage amendment also could be proposed in the legislature, Deo said.
“But I don’t know if the political will is going to be there [to pass it], because the courts have not really granted same-sex marriage,” he said.
Any “gay marriage” or civil unions legislation must go across the desk of Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who in a 2005 debate said he believes “the fundamental and traditional view of marriage is between a man and a woman.”
“The court ruled that same sex couples are entitled to equal rights, and I look forward to the legislative process implementing the court’s decision,” Corzine said in a statement after the ruling.
Despite Corzine’s past remarks about marriage, Deo doubts the governor would veto a “gay marriage” bill if it passed the legislature. Deo, though, doesn’t believe the legislature will pass such a bill. Three assembly members said they would sponsor a bill that would legalize “gay marriage.”
“I think we’ve got a pretty good chance [to defeat a gay marriage bill],” Deo said. “I don’t see that there’s political will in the legislature to grant same-sex marriage. But I’ve been wrong before.”
Homosexual activists had hoped New Jersey would become the second state to legalize “gay marriage.” It still could, but not in the manner they had hoped. If they ultimately lose in New Jersey, they still could win in California, Connecticut, Iowa or Maryland, all of which are defending their laws in “gay marriage” lawsuits.
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage