Bolstered by their recent wins at the ballot box, gay-marriage activists say they are looking to build on their newfound momentum at the ballot box and in the courtroom.
Having broken a long losing string at the polls Nov. 6, gay marriage backers already have targeted several states for statewide voting drives, even as they await an imminent announcement from the Supreme Court that could reignite the battle over same-sex marriage in California.
Among the states being primed for marriage battles are New Jersey, one of just two states electing a governor and new state legislature in 2013, Delaware, Illinois and Rhode Island.
All four have civil-union laws, which gay activists would like to convert to legal marriage laws, especially given the momentum of voters approving such laws in Maryland, Maine and Washington state, and rejecting an anti-gay-marriage amendment in Minnesota this year. Before this year’s votes, gay-marriage opponents had defeated more than 30 straight statewide proposals to ease restrictions on same-sex marriage.
In New Jersey, for instance, “we’re full-steam ahead” in the drive to override GOP Gov. Chris Christie’s February 2012 veto of a gay-marriage law, said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality.
However, an even greater prize may be on the horizon.
On Nov. 30, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to discuss whether to take up a lawsuit challenging whether California’s voter-passed Proposition 8 was properly struck down by federal courts. Prop. 8, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, has been in effect — and in court — since it was passed by voters in a fiercely contested 2008 initiative drive.
ProtectMarriage.com and Alliance Defending Freedom this year petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, arguing that the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment makes the California proposition unconstitutional.
The American Foundation for Equal Rights and the city and county of San Francisco asked the high court to deny consideration of the lawsuit, arguing that federal courts correctly overturned Prop. 8 as unconstitutional.
If the Supreme Court declines to take up the case — which could happen Dec. 3 — the initiative would be thrown out and gay marriage would quickly resume in California.
That “would have a massive impact, nationally,” Mr. Goldstein said. “When you have California and New York — the pillars of the East and West coasts — and many more states with marriage equality, the house of cards of discrimination have all been shuffled out.”
Opponents of gay marriage say allowing the lower court decision to stand would be a rejection of the expressed will of California’s residents, said Greg Quinlan, director of government affairs for the New Jersey Family Policy Council, a traditional values group.
It “would be a blow to our democracy to overturn the vote of the people,” he said. California voters have “defended marriage as one man and one woman not once, but twice.” If their measures are thrown out, “then you start to wonder, ‘Does my vote count at all?’”
San Francisco Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone noted in the days after the vote that gay-marriage opponents were badly outspent by gay-rights groups, and bishops are grappling with how they can be more persuasive.
“The election is a symptom of a much larger problem,” Archbishop Cordileone told The Associated Press. “Most people don’t understand what marriage is.”
The Supreme Court at the end of the month is also expected to consider several cases challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996, which defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman in federal law. Court-watchers such as CNN legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin, New York Law School Professor Arthur S. Leonard, and even Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have speculated that the high court likely will take one or more Defense of Marriage Act cases to settle constitutional issues that have been percolating about gay-marriage rights.
Congressional Republicans are financing the legal defense of the law after the Obama administration Justice Department announced last year it would no longer defend the law in court because of doubts about its constitutionality.
A repeal of the federal act would be a massive victory for gay-marriage supporters and comparable defeat for traditional-values groups.
Blue state targets
Meanwhile, gay-marriage activists are looking to advance in a number of states carried easily by Mr. Obama as they sift through the Nov. 6 returns.
In Illinois, most political leaders support gay marriage and Democrats won “supermajorities” in both houses of the state legislature. In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, has said he thinks marriage equality is “inevitable.” And in Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, supports gay marriage, as do many lawmakers,
“There’s a wave and we should ride it,” Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, said on Election Night.
Gay marriage activists in Oregon and Ohio also are angling to repeal their states’ voter-passed amendments upholding traditional marriage.
The battle isn’t just limited to Democratic strongholds. A new group called Arizona Advocates for Marriage Equality was formed in Scottsdale this month and already has sought permission to raise funds for a possible 2014 initiative campaign. State voters rejected a similar proposal just four years ago by 56 percent to 44 percent.
In New Jersey, where Mr. Christie is expected to seek a second four-year term amid speculation he may run for president in 2016, there are parallel tracks, Mr. Goldstein said. One is to get two-thirds support in both legislative chambers by January 2014 to overturn the governor’s veto of the previous gay-marriage law.
“Anyone who sees obstacles, and doubts that we can overcome them, does not know the strength and commitment of our legislative leaders on this issue,” Mr. Goldstein said.
Mr. Quinlan countered that New Jersey lawmakers “barely” got the gay-marriage law passed, “and there’s no way they would have the supermajorities needed in either chamber.”
“What we would like, and what we think is fair, is to let the people decide, and put it on the ballot. This is a huge issue,” Mr. Quinlan said.
Mr. Goldstein said he and his allies are not pursuing a referendum in New Jersey, especially in a year with Mr. Christie at the top of the ticket. The other track to gay marriage in New Jersey is to win a lawsuit that is wending its way to the state’s Supreme Court.
That lawsuit, which says civil unions are inadequate compared to marriage, may take a few years, he said, but “by the time 2016 rolls around, endorsing merely civil unions would be like buying a Model T.”