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conservatives plotting moves if court allows same-sex
marriage

New Jersey
conservatives plotting moves if court allows same-sex
marriage

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As they await a New Jersey Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage in the Garden State, social conservatives say they are prepared to take the fight to the ballot box if they lose in the legal arena.

As they await a New Jersey Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage in the Garden State, social conservatives say they are prepared to take the fight to the ballot box if they lose in the legal arena. "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 we get to weigh in an issue of such magnitude?" said Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council. Like advocates for same-sex marriage, New Jersey's conservative lobbyists and lawmakers are gearing up for a political battle in the aftermath of the court's ruling in the landmark case of Lewis v. Harris, in which seven gay couples contend not letting them marry is a violation of the state constitution. A decision could come any time and is expected by October 25, the day before Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz turns 70 and is required to retire. New Jersey is one of only five states without a specific ban on same-sex marriage. But municipal clerks in the state cannot grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples because the state Attorney General's Office has said that same-sex marriage is not lawful. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit say they should be able to get marriage licenses. Whichever side loses in court will be at a disadvantage when they turn to the political arena to plead their case: The losers will try to persuade lawmakers to act. The winning side simply can ask the Legislature to do nothing. Several of the state's most prominent politicians, including Governor Jon Corzine, have said while they do not favor same-sex marriage, they oppose amending the constitution to ban it. That's a position the conservatives would have to overcome in their efforts to let citizens vote on a constitutional amendment. Before a measure can get on the ballot, it has to pass both chambers of the state Legislature with a three-fifths majority or get a simple majority in each house in two consecutive legislative years. Garden State Equality, New Jersey's main gay rights organization, has already been asking lawmakers not to support such an amendment and has commitments from Democratic and some Republican lawmakers. John Tomicki, the chairman of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage, said some of those lawmakers would change their minds in the face of public pressure. He said the key is not convincing them that same-sex marriage should be banned but that the public should be able to decide the issue. "With the entire Legislature up for re-election, they're going to say, 'So sorry, not interested in having the public vote about this'?" Tomicki said. So far, voters in all 19 states where a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being only between one man and one woman has been offered have approved them. In gay-friendly and Democratic-leaning New Jersey, the issue has not received serious discussion in a Legislature that is one of a handful in the nation to approve domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples. And while same-sex marriage opponents' track record in changing state constitutions is good, New Jersey has demographics unlike most of the country. While the people who lead the charge against expanding gay rights in most states are evangelic Christians, it's a more complicated coalition here: Conservatives are counting on immigrants and religious blacks who usually vote Democratic, and hope that the state's large Roman Catholic population falls in line with church leaders, who oppose marriage equality. Like elsewhere, conservatives in New Jersey say allowing same-sex marriages could undermine the traditional family, hurt children, give people special rights based on their sexual practices, and even open the door to allowing polygamous marriage. They also say the court would be overstepping its bounds by getting involved in a policy issue that should be the domain of elected lawmakers. Gay-rights supporters deny all those claims and say the issue is a matter of civil rights. A poll by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University this summer found that about half the state's voters favor allowing same-sex marriage and about the same percentage oppose an amendment to ban it. The New Jersey Family Policy Council's Deo said a vote would give groups like his a chance to change people's minds on the issue. "A lot of people are not paying attention to it because it's not a real issue to them," he said. Even in advance of a ruling, conservative lobbyists are mobilizing to persuade the Legislature to let the people vote by laying the groundwork for petition drives, placing newspaper advertisements, and lining up local officials to record messages for a phone campaign. Ingrid Reed, director of the Eagleton New Jersey Project, said the efforts might not work in the Garden State. "I'm not sure that we will see other voters identifying with the more conservative view and getting mobilized on this issue," Reed said. Opponents of same-sex marriage say they know the political fight in New Jersey would be harder than in most states. "Just because something's hard to do doesn't mean you don't do it," said William F. Bolan Jr., who recently retired as executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference. (AP)

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