In a country that is profoundly divided on marriage equality, there does not seem to be any really good mechanism to decide whether loving, committed same-sex couples should be permitted to marry. Animus against sexual minorities appears to be very widespread among the public, state legislators and the court systems.
The New Jersey legislature appears poised to pass a bill allowing SSM. But Governor Chris Christie has promised to veto the bill, and there does not seem to be enough votes to override the veto. A referendum to dump the problem onto the public has being suggested and promoted by the Governor.
According to a poll by the Eagleton Institute of Politics in mid-2012-FEB, among the voters polled:
"53 percent of voters support Christie’s call for a vote on
"40 percent support Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s position that gay marriage is a civil rights issue that should not be decided upon by voters."
"Even among those who support gay marriage, a majority wants a referendum." 1
Director David Redlawsk of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll said:
"It’s surprising that so many of those who support same-sex marriage are also in favor of a referendum. It may be that given several polls showing majority support among voters, supporters of same-sex marriage think it would win in November. But in the face of a likely intensive campaign from opponents, this could be wishful thinking." 1
Perhaps the public realizes that Governor Christie will carry through with his promise to veto the bill, and that a referendum is a mechanism by which SSM could be legalized SSM in 2012.
A referendum would probably bring with it:
An increase in harassment of sexual minorities;
The expenditure of tens of millions of dollars -- much of it in fear-based deceptive advertising -- that would better be used for other purposes; and
Debate on the SSM bill exposed a conflict in beliefs between the Orthodox and both the Conservative and Reform traditions within Judaism. This is very similar to that found between fundamentalist/evangelical Christians and mainline/progressive Christians.
Orthodox tradition: The Institute of Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union issued a statement repeating their opposition to
the state's "redefinition of marriage." However, they were pleased with the protection that the bill offers to religious groups who wanted to continue discriminating against lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGBs). They wrote:
"Disturbingly, in too many states, those acting on their religious beliefs have seen government benefits withheld; government funds, contracts, and services denied; and privileges such as tax exemptions revoked. We are hopeful that New Jersey’s bill will be enacted and enforced in a manner that ensures that this will not happen here and that employers, social service providers, and houses of worship will be free to uphold their faith." 2
Their reference to "tax exemptions" appears to refer to an accusation made by the National Organization for Marriage -- the leading national group that opposes SSM -- in their 2009 fear-based TV ad against same-sex marriage. Both appear to refer to an incident at the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA) in Ocean Grove, NJ. The association was "punished" by the government by having their tax exempt status terminated and by losing other government benefits. The root cause of their problem was not the state government attacking the group's religious freedoms as both the above statement and the TV ad stated. It was due to their decision to violate a contract that they had previously entered into with the New Jersey government. It required them to grant access to the entire public. This means, among other things, that they had to grant equal access to persons of all sexual orientations. Although opposite-sex couples were regularly allowed to rent the OGCMA pavilion to solemnize their marriages, the group denied permission to a same-sex couple to solemnize their civil union there. If the OCCMA had not broken their contract, they would have been exempt from any form of prosecution.
Their reference to "social service providers" appears to refer to conflicts that arose in Massachusetts after the government legalized same-sex marriage in that state during 2004. Essentially all of the funding to Catholic adoption and foster care providers came from the state government. When the government asked the agencies to treat all potential adopting and foster care couples -- opposite-sex and same-sex -- equally, the agencies refused, and shut down rather than end their discrimination. A similar event happened with Catholic agencies in Illinois when that state legalized civil unions.
Another Orthodox group, the Torah Values Defense (TVD), placed an estimated 25,000 robocalls urging residents of the state to call their senator an express their opposition to the SSM bill.
Rabbi Nosson Leiter of Monsey, NY, who is an organizer for the TVD and spokesperson for the Lakewood-based Garden State Parents for Moral Values, called the bill "... very anti-Torah, anti-moral, anti-American." 2
Conservative Tradition: Rabbi David Greenstein of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair, NJ drew a parallel between opponents of gay marriage and inhabitants of Sodom, as described in Genesis 19 of the Hebrew Scriptures. Citing the Talmud, he said:
"The real sin of Sodom is "to be opposed to someone deriving a benefit where their derivation of benefit causes no harm."
Reform tradition: Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz of the Reform Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ wrote in The Star-Ledger suggesting that the expected veto by Governor Christie’s would promote the theological beliefs of one group over another, and deprive:
"... some citizens of the rights enjoyed by others. ... What possible interest can the state have in drawing a distinction between the relationships of ... [same-sex] committed couples and those of their heterosexual friends?" 2
Rev. Mark M. Beckwith, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, and the Rev. E. Roy Riley Jr., bishop of the New Jersey Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) contributed to the article.
2012-FEB-16: Assembly passes bill:
On 2012-FEB-16, the full New Jersey Assembly passed the "Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act" by a vote of 41 to 33 with two members abstaining. This would only require the signature of Governor Chris Christie (R) to alter the existing state marriage law so that same-sex couples could marry. That change would bring the law into conformance with the equal access clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and into conformance with the wishes of most New Jersey voters.
However, the governor has promised to veto the bill. He is promoting a public referendum to determine the fate of same-sex couples. Some commentators speculate that Christie might become the GOP vice presidential candidate in the 2012 elections. If he were to sign the bill into law or even do nothing and allow the bill to become law by default, his future at the national level of the Republican party would be instantly terminated, because of the widespread and intense animus of members of that party towards sexual minorities.
Steven Goldstein, a spokesperson for the organization Garden State Equality, said that if the governor vetoes the measure, "..the battle for overriding the veto begins" in the legislature.3 They have until early 2014 to accomplish this.