National Organization for Marriage runs radio ads urging gay marriage opponents to speak up; lawmaker says people are listening
MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. New Jersey’s well organized gay rights advocates are finding their adversaries are also getting prepared for a coming legislative debate over gay marriage.
The National Organization for Marriage, established earlier this year in Princeton, made itself known over the past few weeks with radio advertisements urging people to call their lawmakers to tell them that allowing gay couples to marry would undermine the institution.
The group set up in left-leaning New Jersey because it is one of a few states where there’s a realistic chance in the next few years that lawmakers will vote to allow gay marriage. That makes it a battleground for the issues nationally.
“If our side continues to increase in its activism, I think we can stop this in 2008,” said Brian Brown, the executive director of the new organization.
Steven Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality, said the emergence of the new group shows how close New Jersey is to becoming the first state to enact a law to allow gay couples to marry.
“We’re not surprised at the right wing’s panic,” he said. “We’re ready for this battle.”
The only state that currently lets gay couples marry is Massachusetts and that was because of a ruling from the state’s top court.
Last year, New Jersey’s state Supreme Court declared that gay couples should have the same legal rights as married couples. The Legislature responded by adopting a civil unions law, which allows those benefits but stops short of allowing gay couples to wed.
Goldstein and his allies have promised since then that they would keep pushing for full marriage. But instead of going to the courts again, he vowed to go first to the state Legislature.
It’s a relatively new strategy for gay rights advocates. Only in California has a legislature that passed a similar bill. There, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has twice vetoed the measure.
Just a year ago in New Jersey, it seemed a long shot that lawmakers would pass a marriage bill anytime soon. Back then, Goldstein acknowledged that only a handful of lawmakers were solidly behind the cause then.
But civil unions have received poor reviews from couples, many of whom say their employers, and others, are not recognizing the rights they’re supposed to bring with them.
Nearly one-fifth of the more than 2,000 couples that had licenses for civil unions as of mid-November have complained to Garden State Equality that some of their rights have been denied.
Now, Goldstein says, he might have enough support to get a law passed. His group and another liberal organization, Blue Jersey, have aired television commercials explaining their position.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he would sign a gay marriage bill into law, but added that he did not want to deal with the issue before the 2008 presidential election.
Goldstein is pushing for a discussion about a year from now.
The opponents, who say the majority of people agree with them, are trying to get mobilized in case it comes up before then.
Brown, who previously ran the Family Institute of Connecticut, says gay marriage would affect people other than gay couples and their families.
For instance, he says allowing it would mean that children in public schools would have to be taught that it’s OK to be gay, that people who oppose gay marriage could be seen as bigots and that religious organizations that teach homosexuality is wrong could lose their tax-exempt status. “Can’t people care about their culture? Can’t people care about the effects it will have on society at large?” he asked. “It affects legal structure, religious structures.”
Brown’s organization is also waging campaigns in other states, especially places in the Northeast and West where gay marriage is most likely to become reality.
Brown’s group believes that if gay marriage is allowed in multiple states, there would be more lawsuits from gay couples married in one state and seeking to have their unions recognized elsewhere. He seeks to head that off by blocking gay marriage in states where it’s most likely to be allowed.
Most states already have laws or constitutional amendments that prohibit the unions.
His group and others opposed to gay marriage have sent e-mails to followers and aired radio commercials for two weeks recently urging them to contact their lawmakers to oppose gay marriage.
The district office of Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., a Democrat and one of the most powerful lawmakers in Trenton and an advocate of gay marriage, has received more than 500 calls from opponents over the past few weeks.
“The radio ads have definitely gotten people’s attention,” Brown said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 21, 2007.