N.J. Ruling Could Yield Backlash at Nov. Polls

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 27, 2006

Backers of a Virginia constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions said yesterday that a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that orders equal rights for such couples will drive supporters to the polls and help pass the ballot measure.

In coordinated news conferences across the state, supporters predicted a backlash against the New Jersey decision, which directed legislators to craft a bill offering same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex couples. The New Jersey court, which announced its decision Wednesday, also ordered the legislature to decide whether the unions should be labeled "marriage."

Supporters of Virginia's amendment said the ruling would "wake up" conservative voters to the potential for other judges to follow suit, an argument they have been making throughout the campaign to pass the measure.

"This alerts the citizens that this, in fact, is going on. . . . Judges are ordering the legislature up there," said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who characterized the timing of the New Jersey decision less than two weeks before Election Day as a "prayer being answered."

"People who may not have been paying attention now are going to look up and say, 'Wait a minute, the people who have been pushing this thing have been telling the truth,' " he added.

Opponents of the measure countered that efforts to use this week's action were deceptive and only played into the fears of Virginia voters. They pointed out that, unlike Virginia, New Jersey does not have a law banning same-sex marriage and that there is no evidence that Virginia justices, who tend to be conservative, would rule similarly to judges in other states.

"The New Jersey marriage laws will have no more impact on Virginia marriage laws than the New Jersey driver's license laws have on Virginia driver's license laws. It's irrelevant," said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, campaign director for the Commonwealth Coalition, the group that organized to battle the amendment.

Supporters said the New Jersey decision raised hopes of a repeat of 2004, when conservative voters in many states with same-sex ballot measures were compelled to vote because of the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in that state.

"Couples from every state in the union could go to New Jersey, marry, go back to their home states and file a lawsuit and try to get that state to recognize that marriage," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America, a group supporting the amendment, at a news conference yesterday at Regent University's Alexandria campus.

National gay rights activists said they do not believe that the New Jersey decision will alter the outcome in Virginia or in seven other states with amendments on the ballot.

"This is a very different electorate than the one in 2004," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "This is not an electorate that is worried about their future, it's an angry electorate that will see these discriminatory divisive measures for what they are."

But David Masci, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said the New Jersey decision has the potential to serve as a rallying call to some social conservatives.

"This certainly has the potential of putting wind back into their sails," he said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company