A Cautious Man
December 11, 2008
"A Change Is Gonna Come"
In the wake of the release of the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission report, which concluded that (surprise!) a "civil union" is just not "as good as" a marriage, here in the Great State of New Jersey we have a governor who wants to move ahead, based on the recommendations -

Gov. Jon Corzine said today New Jersey's civil unions law "hasn't done enough to narrow the gap" and same-sex marriage should be established in New Jersey "sooner rather than later."

He urged the Legislature to "seriously review" a report released today by the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission that said civil unions have failed to grant full rights to same-sex couples and urged the state to quickly enact same-sex marriage.

- but legislative leaders who, while both supportive and expecting equal marriage to arrive eventually, have not shown an interest in moving as fast –

But while Corzine pledged to sign a gay marriage bill if it reaches his desk, it's unclear whether the Legislature will take up the issue, with Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) saying equality must come in "incremental steps."

"I believe that society's view of this issue is coming around in favor of same-sex marriage and this report, underscoring the many inequalities that still exist, will further advance that belief," Codey said.

Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) said the report "should spark a renewed sense of purpose and urgency to overcoming one of society's last remaining barriers to full equality for all residents. As I have said many times before, same-sex marriage in New Jersey is only a matter of 'when,' not 'if.'"

The key fact which might lead some of these guys to hold off for now, is in this sentence from the article –

Corzine faces re-election in 2009, as do all 80 members of the Assembly.

I think that it would be an error to wait, for next year's "lame duck" session or otherwise. Following are five suggested reasons for addressing the issue "sooner rather than later".

First, those who disagree know that it's coming. Waiting for a "lame duck" session after the 2009 gubernatorial and legislative election will not keep the issue from being discussed in that election. So, you don't gain anything there.

Second, as a corollary to the first, I don't buy the "they'll support us after the election" theory, if anyone is arguing that. If there are any legislators who need to "keep quiet" about their eventual support, until they get through the election, why should we assume that they'd get a free pass from opponents? If the issue is going to be raised during the 2009 election anyway, why put the fence-sitters in a position where they decide to state their opposition to any "lame duck" passage, if not any change in the law at all? And if they decide to state their support anyway, the delay hasn't really helped (and possibly has hurt, for reason Number Three).

Third, if it has to be part of the 2009 election, let it be as passed and implemented legislation, and not as some not-yet-there, it-may-happen hypothetical. Thanks to the failure of the opposition to Proposition 8 in California, people inclined to support equal marriage now know that it is possible that legal rights could be reversed. I'm not so naive as to think that this alone could make a difference, between supporters coming out to defend passed legislation vs. supporters of possible legislation, but it couldn't hurt. Besides, if the New Jersey election is seen as a forum to defend legislatively-approved marriage equality, one would hope that some of the after-the-fact enthusiasm that California inspired could be used to support legislation that could be a national model.

Fourth, a purely partisan reason is that Democrats shouldn't let presumptive Republican frontrunner Chris Christie get a free ride on the issue. As the recently-former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, he's going to run on a "good government" (can't argue against that), lower-taxes and pro-business platform. Classic Republican, in other words. If there's an undercurrent of opposition to the considering of marriage equality legislation as part of a "lame duck" session, he can waive it off with some platitudes like, "I want to look at the civil unions issue a little more", or "I agree with those who say that we're not at that stage, yet." He would get the votes of the opponents of marriage equality, anyway, and be less likely to lose the votes of those who favor it, but who are focused on other issues in the election. If the Democrats push the issue to after the election, in other words, he gets the best of both worlds.

Now, before we get to Reason Number Five, follow along with me for a moment, and assume what may happen if the issue is addressed by the Legislature at the start of the New Year. Will it be a political issue going into the 2009 election? Certainly, but that's unavoidable. Would some legislators balk at committing before the election? Sure, but as noted above there's no guarantee of their support post-election; better to "smoke 'em out" now, before the primaries in June. And speaking of the primaries, just imagine if marriage equality was passed and scheduled for implementation by the time the June primaries roll around? Presumptive Republican front-runner Chris Christie may not be able to hide from the issue, but he may have to address it head-on. I have no idea where he comes down on this issue, but consider the choices. If he says he opposes the legislation, and would support repeal, that gets him on record and potentially reduces his support (from centrists inclined towards him because of his "good government" and fiscal arguments). If, on the other hand, he says that he also supports marriage equality, then he either wins in the primary (and the legislation is saved), or he loses in the primary (in which case the top of the Republican ticket is an extreme, less popular right-winger). So, on balance, there are a lot of good reasons for "sooner rather than later".

There's a fifth and final reason, in my humble opinion. The design and drafting of this legislation should take place away from, and not as part of, a partisan political fight, either during or just after a contentious election. In a calmer atmosphere, the fact that the world has not come to an end in Massachusetts and Connecticut can be pointed out. Just as important, the legislation can make it clear that this is a legal change to civil marriage – not a mandate to any religious or other group regarding the performing of any marriage ceremony that is not consistent with their tenets. Although some proponents may not like hearing it put this way, the fact is that there may not be a majority which is completely for marriage equality; so it might be best to use the fact that there's also not a majority that is completely against it, either. So, don't make it something to choose sides on, during election season.



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