TRENTON – A coalition of religious groups launched a renewed effort Thursday to let voters – not the courts – decide whether to allow gay marriage in New Jersey.
The coalition – which includes organizations such as the N.J. Catholic Conference, National Organization of Marriage, N.J. Family Policy Council and the N.J. State Council of the Knights of Columbus – wants to preserve traditional marriage.
But the coalition’s members said today that if there is going to be gay marriage in New Jersey, then the electorate, not the judiciary, should make that decision.
“Have the courage to trust the wisdom of the people,” said John Tomicki of the League of American Families. “We’re willing.”
According to Tomicki, the Senate Democrats know they don’t have the votes to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of the gay marriage bill, so they’re hoping that judges will give them a victory through the courts that they cannot achieve through legislation.
“When you’re right on the law you pound the law,” he said. “When you’re wrong on the law you pound the table.”
According to coalition members, pro-gay marriage forces are also unsure about winning at the polls.
According to Len Deo of the N.J. Family Policy Council, there is a simple reason the Democrats won’t allow a referendum.
“People in New Jersey are a little bit smarter than our Legislature makes them out to be,” he said. “If it was a slam dunk they would have went to the people a long time ago.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney has long said that a civil rights issue should not be put up for popular vote.
Deo said today that gay marriage is not about civil rights, it is about special rights.
He and other coalition members argued that New Jersey’s civil union law provides to gay couples the same state benefits of marriage. Judge Mary Jacobson ruled last week that in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this year, New Jersey’s civil union law violates the rights of same-sex couples.
But coalition members expressed concerns today that if gay marriage becomes law, then the entire definition of marriage will be changed and eventually there will be a push to legalize other unions such as polygamy, as well as a push to change school curriculums.
Tomicki and others urged gay-marriage advocates to agree to a series of public debates held around the state.
The coalition also announced a web site it will establish toward its causes: Letnjpeopledecide.org.
Donald Sico, of the National Organization for Marriage, pointed out that 13 years ago no political entity had recognized gay marriage, and now 13 U.S. states have done so.
Coalition members said 13 years is not enough time for all of the consequences of allowing gay marriage to have been evaluated, and that the issue before Jacobson cries out for a stay so it can be publicly debated and decided.
The state has asked Jacobson to stay her ruling of last week until the state Supreme Court can agree to take up the case.
Sico, a former longtime executive director of the state Assembly, acknowledged the judicial reality of the importance of obtaining a stay of the Jacobson order that starting Oct. 21, gay marriage should be permitted in New Jersey.
“It doesn’t look great right now,” he said. “If the governor is not successful in getting a stay I think it becomes very, very difficult.”
But if the stay is granted, according to Sico, they have a better path to success because they believe an override vote will fail and then the high court makeup at the time of the case could come into play.
Sweeney said earlier this week they would not schedule an override vote until they are sure they have the votes.
The Democrats need three no votes to switch to yes votes. Even if the two Democratic senators who voted against gay marriage last year change to a yes, the Democrats would still need a Republican to change their vote.