Is there a fissure growing in New Jersey’s gay rights movement?
Last month’s marriage equality victories in Maryland, Washington and Maine (and Minnesota’s asterisk victory) sent shock waves into the movement. Seeing new possibilities, rethinking old strategies. It was the voters that opened those states. Garden State Equality (GSE), the well-oiled machine of change not yet realized, solidly rejects the giving this choice to the voters, pursuing the court and legislative routes. But since Election Day, there are new calls for referendum, coming now from people who always opposed it. What’s going on here?
In the past two days, since GSE put out a strongly-worded joint statement with Freedom to Marry and Human Rights Campaign (HRC) rejecting referendum, I’ve had a number of conversations with players at various levels and in various roles in the push for ME in New Jersey. Most of them were off-the-record, at their insistence. While GSE and its media-savvy Chair Steven Goldstein maintain a high-profile, some of the counter-moves of others are only in the formative stage, newly hatched since Nov. 6, but possibly percolating a broader strategy than GSE, to include referendum.
Disclosure: I am a Garden State Equality board member. That doesn’t necessarily give me an inside track on GSE’s moves. And I took it on with the understanding I’d always be free not only to advocate but also to write about this issue. I share the same revulsion for marriage equality referenda that I believe Goldstein does; I joined this movement when I realized my straightness gave me the unearned right to pass judgement on the lives of other people, and isn’t that at the heart of any referendum? But I see my role as only adding my labor to the core work of gay people advocating for their own rights and lives. It’s easy to understand the urgency and imperative that would lead people to consider anything that would let gay couples and families to move ahead as they deserve to.
There’s no question now that New Jersey is ripe for change and ready to support the marriage rights of gay couples in love. We’re a blue state, albeit not always a progressive one. But we watch neighbor states move ahead … New York, Connecticut, D.C., Maine, Maryland, Vermont, Massachusetts … without the world blowing up, ‘traditional marriages’ busting up, or anybody growing horns. In short, this is normalizing. As it should.
Even among NJ Republicans there’s a readiness – PPP Polling found more Republicans (21%) supporting same-sex marriage than Dems (19%) opposing it. Independents support 54/36%. Same poll found 72% of respondents think they should be allowed to vote on the matter.
And yet. There are many of us who do not believe we should not subject the rights of the minority to the will of the majority. You hear that from civil rights advocates, like former ACLU-NJ Director Deborah Jacobs, and from Majority Leader Sen. Loretta Weinberg, and ME’s newest champion, Senate President Sweeney.
The anti-equality crowd is getting nastier, more desperate. They’re losing the hearts and minds, and they know it. Their dark-cloud, end-of-days ads, which once scared the bejeezus out of people, now just lay there. And new tactics (Save the notaries … really?) are laughable. ME is going to happen.
Reed Gusciora’s turnaround on referendum surprised some, not others. On Monday, I asked Goldstein if Gusciora’s shift was a recognition that there weren’t going to be enough votes for an override of Christie’s veto on ME legislation passed in the Assembly (co-sponsored by Gusciora and NJ’s other gay assemblyman Tim Eustace) and Senate (guided by Weinberg and prioritized by Sweeney). He was brief and direct: “No it does not at all mean that.”
Here is what Gusciora told Blue Jersey:
I think it is ironic that we were given talking points by the same advocates that the majority of the public is in favor of this. Now they want us to duck and cover for a better day. Maybe because I hung out with football players that I’m ready for this fight. This is really about the next generation of gays and lesbians who want us to stand up for their rights today. It’s a poor example to tell them to wait.
Gusciora is not the only person talking this way this week. Star-Ledger editorial headline, yesterday:
To defeat Christie on gay marriage, a popular vote is New Jersey’s safest bet
Some activists are now more willing to consider referendum, even if they still believe the majority shouldn’t have the right to decide for others. They’re willing to get past their ethical revulsion at putting their rights up for vote – and the political implications that this is a vote ME-opponent Christie called for – in the face of the practical possibility that it just might win them the rights they deserve: If it worked in these other places, and NJ support for us is strong, then put referendum on the table, they say.
Jon Galluccio, who was briefly named GSE Managing Director earlier this year (but is no longer) is spearheading a new organization launching in January called New Jersey United for Marriage Equality, which he describes as a “union of NJ forces working for marriage equality,” with all routes considered.
Another practical consideration? Money. Winning an ME referendum in NJ (expensive media market) would cost a lot. But just yesterday, HRC (which signed Goldstein’s joint statement against referendum) posted their study showing donors supporting marriage equality in 2012 dwarfed those who opposed it by a factor of 13 to 1. And their data was collected from Nov. 6 referendum states ME, MD, and MN (and WA, a bill state).
I have not worked out my own feelings about the direction marriage this should take. Ideologically, I’m opposed to referendum. But I imagine loving couples in Maine, Washington and Maryland will feel no less married because their fmilies, neighbors and co-workers voted to make it happen. I do think the referendum push forces this issue onto Gov. Christie’s radar. And I wonder if Nov. 6 makes him regret he asked for it.