TRENTON, N.J. -- When New Jersey voters go to the polls Tuesday, they'll decide not only who gets to reside in the governor's mansion the next four years but possibly also the future of "gay marriage" in the state.
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, is running for re-election and has made no secret about his desire to sign a bill that would make the state the sixth or seventh -- depending on the outcome of a vote in Maine -- to redefine marriage to include homosexuals. His Republican opponent, Chris Christie, says he would veto such a bill.
Corzine made his position prominent early in the campaign, saying in a June campaign kickoff speech, "We believe that government should allow people the freedom to marry whomever they love." His campaign website also says he backs "gay marriage" and "is committed" to signing a bill.
Polls show the race between Corzine and Christie a virtual tie.
But even if Corzine loses, he might still get his wish. That's because New Jersey's legislature will hold a lame duck session sometime after Nov. 3 and before the gubernatorial inauguration in January, and legislators are expected to debate a "gay marriage" bill, which up to this point they have avoided. Still, Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, believes Tuesday's outcome could influence the lame duck session.
"If Christie wins, I think some legislators would have second thoughts about voting for a same-sex marriage bill [in a lame duck session]," Deo told Baptist Press. "We understand [a lame duck session] is going to happen one way or the other. Whereas if Corzine wins, they would probably be emboldened to say, 'See, the people voted for Corzine anyway.'"
The New Jersey vote is but one of several races nationwide that social conservatives are watching during this off-year election. Among the others:
-- In Maine, conservatives are working to pass Question 1, an initiative that would reverse a new law that legalized "gay marriage." If Question 1 loses, it will be the first time that residents of any state have backed "marriage" for same-sex couples. Conservatives also are hoping to defeat Question 5, which would expand the state's medicinal marijuana law.
-- In Washington state, conservatives are working to defeat Referendum 71, which also pertains to same-sex couples. A rejection of Referendum 71 would overturn a new law that grants homosexual couples all the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name.
-- In New York state's 23rd congressional district, conservatives are watching closely to see if a Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman, can prevail in a special election over Republican Dede Scozzafava and Democrat Bill Owens. Social conservatives are unhappy that local GOP officials nominated Scozzafava, who supports "gay marriage" and is pro-choice. Owens opposes "gay marriage" but also is pro-choice. Hoffman, who is pro-life and opposes "gay marriage," has been backed by several leading conservatives, including Sarah Palin. The district typically votes Republican.
-- In Kalamazoo, Mich., conservatives hope to defeat Ordinance 1856, a controversial anti-discrimination measure that applies to homosexuals and transgendered people. Conservatives say the measure's language on public accommodation would open females to harassment by allowing men to use women's restrooms.
The New Jersey governor's race is one of two gubernatorial races nationwide. The other is in Virginia, where Republican Bob McDonnell is favored over Democrat Creigh Deeds.
The New Jersey race is unique because a third party candidate, Independent Chris Daggett, is polling in double digits in some surveys, meaning that the winning candidate could prevail with only about 40 percent of the vote. Many analysts believe he is taking votes from Christie.
Despite running for office in the normally left-leaning state, Christie has not shied away from conservative stances.
"I believe that marriage should remain the exclusive domain of one man and one woman," his campaign website says. "If a bill legalizing same sex marriage came to my desk as Governor, I would veto it. If the law were changed by judicial fiat, I would be in favor of a constitutional amendment on the ballot so that voters, not judges, would decide this important social question."
Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, believes a "gay marriage" bill likely would pass the General Assembly but that the vote would be close in the Senate. Although members of the Assembly are up for re-election, members of the Senate are not. Democrats control both chambers.
Whatever happens on Tuesday and in the following weeks, Deo believes the state should ban lame duck sessions.
"I think lame duck is egregious because all the very controversial bills the legislature doesn't want to handle normally get plowed through in the lame duck session when there's no accountability," Deo said. "It's a very, very damaging time for the people. I would like to see the lame duck session outlawed."