News Analysis: Evaluating the Next Marriage Equality States
Who knows what would have happened if Joe Biden hadn’t plainly expressed his support for marriage equality back in December? What we do know is that his on-air statement pushed President Barack Obama to "come out of the closet" about his full-throttled support for marriage equality.
Although he’s been spending his days in Washington, D.C., Vice-President Biden casts a long shadow in his home state. His son serves as the state’s attorney general (and probably could win any statewide office he wanted). And -- guess what? -- the state passed civil unions last year. It went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012. Do you detect a trend here?
A 2011 poll showed voters split down the middle about full marriage equality. But with neighboring Maryland, which virtually surrounds the state on the land side, having voted in gay marriage on Nov. 6, the signs look good in the First State, which has been trending much more toward liberal views on social issues.
Del. Gov. Jack Markell told the Huffington Post that same-sex marriage is "inevitable," probably sometime in 2013. More importantly, Markell said he would take a page from the governors of Maryland and New York and spearhead the drive to pass such a bill through the State Legislature if he saw a need for such action.
New Jersey presents the most fascinating situation of any of the states being reviewed here.
Yes, the state is yet another that has civil unions. The state is solid blue. The State Legislature passed a marriage equality bill back in February. But then it came up against a rather large roadblock: Gov. Chris Christie.
As everyone in American now knows, thanks to his keynote address at last summer’s GOP convention in Tampa, and more recently his praise of Obama after Hurricane Sandy devastated his state, Christie is an outsized political figure with national ambitions. The governor certainly disappointed gay activists when he vetoed the bill.
It’s entirely possible that the Legislature will pass another measure just to put the governor on the spot. The governor’s likely opponent in his re-election bid will be Corey Booker, the mayor of Newark, the state’s largest city, also hugely popular and a formidable challenger for the governor.
Booker is a passionate backer of sam-sex marriage. "Marriage equality is not a choice," he said when it was being considered in the Legislature. "It is a legal right." He blasted Christie for vetoing the measure, and the Legislature would just love the chance to highlight the disconnect between Christie’s party and most of the state’s voters.
Christie’s argument was that marriage should be put up for a referendum before the voters. Garden State Equality, the state’s largest gay-rights organization, opposes such a move, as does the nation’s most prominent marriage-equality group, Freedom to Marry.
"It would be a terrible road for New Jersey to go down," Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Nov. 10. He complained about "a huge amount of work and money and time and nervousness that nobody should have to go through."
At this point, however, if the Legislature goes ahead and puts it to the voters in the next election anyway, it looks likely to pass with a solid majority.
There’s a natural and very understandable tendency of gay activists to oppose putting marriage equality before voters. They dislike voting on a basic human right as though it were an issue like a tax levy or casino gambling. But last week showed that Americans increasingly can be counted on to vote for fairness and decency.
Although no one can predict elections in advance, this one does not look as though it would be a nail biter.