- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

Last week’s New Jersey Supreme Court decision granting recognition to same-sex couples could energize concerned values voters, some activists say, in a heavily Democratic state where Republican Tom Kean Jr. is making a strong challenge to Sen. Robert Menendez.

“There’ll be a backlash,” predicted Len Deo, president of New Jersey Family Policy Council. “I’ve been talking to friends, and they’re bewildered by this decision. They’re upset.”

New Jersey’s state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that same-sex couples were treated unequally by the state and ordered the Legislature to correct this — leaving open the question of whether the new status would be called “marriage.” Richard J. Codey, Democratic president of the state Senate, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the state will stop short of calling it “marriage.”

But Tom McClusky, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, said the decision “could make a difference” for Mr. Kean, who said last week that he’d support a state constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage. The amendment is being pushed by conservative groups.

But Larry Cirignano, executive director of CatholicVote.org said that both Mr. Menendez and Mr. Kean are “hedging” on the complex issue and that values voters won’t be energized unless they see a “champion” against same-sex “marriage” — which neither candidate is.

“Unless the candidates make it an issue … I don’t see that it will have a huge impact,” Mr. Cirignano said.

The hard-fought contest between Mr. Menendez and Mr. Kean is one of the few Senate seats that Republicans think they can wrench away from Democrats next week. The National Republican Senatorial Committee recently purchased $3.5 million in ad time to help Mr. Kean in the final days.

Both candidates have said they support traditional marriage as between a man and a woman but oppose amending the federal Constitution to ban same-sex “marriage.”

After last week’s decision, however, Mr. Kean wasted no time in saying he’d support amending the state constitution to clarify that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“I still believe that marriage is and should be between one man and one woman, and I would support an amendment to the state constitution reaffirming that definition,” he said.

Mr. Menendez reiterated that he also believes marriage is between a man and a woman, but supports civil unions that afford same-sex couples full legal benefits.

“The Supreme Court affirmed those rights today, and it is now up to the Legislature to decide how they are to be administered,” he said. “I will not support any constitutional amendment that takes away people’s legal rights.”

Mr. Cirignano said that neither of the candidates’ positions are crystal clear and that “neither campaign is going to be out touting” the marriage issue with a little more than a week until the election, especially because it’s difficult to gauge where the state electorate stands.

Indeed, both camps quickly shifted focus to other topics, with the Kean camp returning to corruption accusations against Mr. Menendez and Mr. Menendez attacking Mr. Kean over the Iraq war.

Democrat state lobbyist Rick Thigpen said Republicans have used same-sex “marriage” to rally their base in other states, but won’t be able to do that in liberal New Jersey because Mr. Menendez’s position doesn’t present “a clear target for them to shoot at.”

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