As President Barack Obama and his White House call upon the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn California's Proposition 8, it opens the door once again for how states approach the controversial issue of same sex marriage.
This particular case has lingered for over four years and over that time, there has been public opinion support growing and more states joining the list of those who allow same sex marriage. Before Proposition 8, California was one of those states. California, though, is one of eight states that give gay couples all the benefits of marriage through civil unions or domestic partnerships but do not allow them to wed.
When it was announced that this issue was going to be brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, there were some noises emerging out of New Jersey on the matter. One such person was Steve Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality. He applauded the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear such a case and ultimately issue a judicial opinion on whether gay Americans have the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals.
“We are simultaneously stunned and jubilant. The conventional wisdom was that the U.S. Supreme Court would take the safe and somewhat progressive route of not taking the Proposition 8 case, which would have restored marriage equality to California. This is one of the highest stakes developments in the civil rights history of our nation. The United States Supreme Court may now legalize marriage equality throughout the land, or rule against us, including against restoring marriage equality in California.”
Taking on the matter was also Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15), who saw encouraging election results in four states in November and wanted to bring forth legislation in the Garden State that asked voters if they would approve of gay marriage as opposed to going through the State Legislature for a third time to only have Governor Chris Christie likely veto a bill. The second time the State Legislature approached a bill, it got through both houses but stalled on the governor's desk. If public opinion nationally is any indicator, the mood for something to pass on a ballot initiative could be nearing.
As Gusciora would state,
“This is exactly what the governor wants."
Guscioria’s bill (A3611) initially did not get the most warm reception from Senate Democrats and gay rights activists who view gay marriage a civil rights issue that should not be decided by popular vote.
It has been normally up to State Legislatures or State Supreme Courts if a state mandates same sex marriage. That was until 2012 when Maine, Maryland, and Washington adopted same sex marriage through a ballot initiative and a vote by citizens. In the same election day, Minnesota voters struck down a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.
Gusciora has generally agreed with the majority in the state about putting this matter to a ballot measure, but his constituents have gotten him to be a bit more open on this matter.
“I am the last person who believes civil rights should be on the ballot, but civil rights delayed is civil rights denied. The timing is right. There is broader acceptance.”
Some like state Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-20) see 2012 as a special case and putting a similar measure in New Jersey in 2013 might not be as successful under the circumstances of an off year election.
As Lesniak would outline,
“Next year, there are two governors’ races and that’s it — in New Jersey and Virginia. There will be tens of millions of dollars coming in from right-wing groups ... with all kinds of distorted messages, not only about same-sex marriage, but about homosexuality itself. It’s a very dangerous course to proceed.”
Goldstein is one of those strong advocates for same sex marriage and equality who falls in line with the thinking of Lesniak.
Goldstein would express,
“With Chris Christie at the top of the ticket,” and with New Jersey sandwiched between the big New York and Philadelphia media markets, “that makes a referendum in New Jersey an entirely different ballgame. If the assemblyman wants to do his own thing ... then God bless him, but I would imagine the leaders of the Legislature would consider his efforts dead on arrival.”
Oddly enough, state Senator Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R-16) opened the door to a potential resolution for this past November for a ballot initiative in early 2012, but some like Gusciora had shot down the idea at the time. Election Day and what happened in four states changed his perception on the matter.
As quickly as Gusciora opened conversation on the matter, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) issued his discontent with the potential measure.
"I have firmly stated before and will say again now that I do not believe you put civil rights on the ballot, period. It is the job of elected officials to ensure that everyone is provided equal protection and equal rights under the law. We should not hide from that responsibility. We should embrace it."
Sweeney, himself, is holding out for a potential override of Christie's veto on the marriage equality bill before the end of the current legislature session in January 2014.
As Sweeney would add,
"We gave the governor an opportunity to ensure true marriage equality in this state, just as other states and nations have done. He punted by shamelessly issuing a conditional veto. I fully plan on overriding that veto before this legislative session is done."
While it is still uncertain what might have in New Jersey, if the U.S. Supreme Court were to adopt the opinion of the White House; it would impact seven states including New Jersey. By ruling gay marriage legal and constitutional in California; it would lead to the same thing in Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island. All states that has arisen the issue.
Supporters of same sex marriage like Goldstein and Gusciora will continue their fights with an eye on the nation's capital and U.S. Supreme Court, who could change the landscape even more than the four electoral outcomes in November.