ALBANY, NY -- Having faced stinging losses on Election Day, supporters of "gay marriage" in New York and New Jersey are looking to regain momentum and are racing to legalize such relationships by year's end.
The clock is ticking.
In New York, Democratic Gov. David Paterson is pressuring the Democratic-controlled Senate to send him a bill by year's end, before the calendar hits 2010 and legislators become less prone to pass a controversial bill in an election year.
In New Jersey -- which just held an election -- supporters of "gay marriage" are rushing to send outgoing Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine a bill before he leaves office Jan. 19. Corzine says he would sign such a bill, while governor-elect Chris Christie, a Republican, has promised to veto it.
A win for homosexual activists in either state -- particularly New York -- would be huge. Thus far, "gay marriage" legalization has been limited to relatively small states: Four of the five states where it is recognized are ranked 29th or lower in population. The largest, Massachusetts, ranks 14th. New Jersey ranks 11th and New York -- America's media capital -- ranks third. Unlike some other states, New Jersey and New York don't allow citizen-driven initiatives, so if a law is passed, it likely will stand.
Yet the political winds are blowing against "gay marriage" backers. Maine, a liberal state known for its libertarianism, passed a law banning "gay marriage" on Election Day, while New Jersey, another left-leaning state, elected Christie, a conservative. Additionally, New York's 23rd congressional district saw liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava drop out of the three-way race due to a lack of support. She backs "gay marriage." The Democratic candidate apparently edged the Conservative Party candidate in that race, although because of the closeness of the vote the election has not been certified.
Paterson called New York's legislature into a special session Tuesday (Nov. 10) to address not only "gay marriage" but also the state's deficit. The Senate, though, adjourned without debating the marriage bill, which passed the Assembly in May. Another special session is scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday. Democratic leaders and Paterson did reach an agreement, though, whereby the Senate will give the bill a vote by year's end.
As it stands now, bill supporters are several votes short.
"We have to be ready every day the Senate is in session to think that this could be the day it could receive a vote," Jason J. McGuire, executive director of the Christian conservative group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, told Baptist Press. McGuire's group opposes the bill and has been urging citizens to call their senators.
McGuire said the election results have made an impact on the bill's prospects. The National Organization for Marriage -- the same group that helped defeat "gay marriage" in California and Maine -- released a poll Nov. 3 of voters in New York's 23rd district showing that half of the Conservative Party candidate's voters said Scozzafava's support for "gay marriage" was one reason they didn't back her.
"Maine, a state that's blue and really quite liberal, even there the people vetoed the legislation and said, 'No, marriage is between a man and a woman.' That was significant," McGuire said, adding he believes New York is more conservative than Maine. "But perhaps even more significant was the way that [traditional] marriage advocates came out in support in New York 23 for the Conservative Party candidate. It demonstrated that they will back a candidate of principle and not necessarily party. So now we have Democrats in conservative districts and Republicans that may have been considering themselves to be moderate that have said, 'I can't vote for this. There's too much on the line in 2010.'"
Homosexual groups like Empire State Pride Agenda believe they are entitled a vote on the bill because they helped Democrats win back the majority in the Senate in 2006. They also want a vote even if the bill loses, simply to put senators on record. Democrats hold a 32-30 edge there, but not all Democrats are on board. At least five Democrats publicly have stated their opposition, with one of them -- Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister -- leading the opposition.
"The people of the nation don't want gay marriage," Díaz told The New York Times. "They didn't want it in California; they didn't want it in Maine. And the people of upstate New York, after what happened to the candidate in the 23rd Congressional District, they sent a message they don't want gay marriage. Forget about it. People don't want it."
The bill is believed to have at least 25 or 26 votes. With Democratic defections, some Republican voters are needed. But McGuire said GOP senators are worried that what happened to Scozzafava could happen to them.
"There are a number of senators that are in conservative-leaning districts that would be committing political suicide if they were to vote for this legislation," McGuire said. "... There are a lot of senators here who are saying they don't want to come under the 'Dede effect.'"
The National Organization for Marriage says it will build a $500,000 "war chest" to fund primary challengers to any GOP senator who votes for the bill.
The New Jersey bill is being pushed by Garden State Equality, which has launched TV ads and is asking its constituents to spend three minutes each day calling legislators on the issue. Democrats control the Assembly by a 47-33 margin and the Senate by a 23-17 edge. A bill has yet to pass either chamber.
Steven Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality, gathered supporters the night after the election and told them, "We have about two and a half months to win marriage equality. It's not over," the Montclair News reported. Goldstein is pushing for a lame duck session to send Corzine the bill. New Jersey already recognizes civil unions, which grant same-sex couples all the legalbenefits of marriage minus the name.
By contrast, Len Deo, president of the Christian conservative New Jersey Family Policy Council, is telling citizens to contact their state senators and oppose the bill. He is targeting eight specific senators who are leaning toward supporting the bill or are undecided. (The list is available at http://bit.ly/mLLF4.)
"I think in the Assembly it may not be as close as we would hope," Deo told Baptist Press. "I think it's going to be very close in the Senate."
The National Organization for Marriage says it will work with like-minded groups and legislators in New Jersey and New York. Maggie Gallagher, president of the organization, told Baptist Press "gay marriage" likely has a better chance for passage in New Jersey than in New York.
"In New Jersey it's a very serious problem," Gallagher said. "It's a serious problem in spite of the fact that the people of New Jersey just defeated a pro-gay marriage governor. So we're going to be working hard to see if we can persuade the legislators in New Jersey that they shouldn't be imposing gay marriage against the will of the people."