Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NJ activists ready for battle over gay marriage :: EDGE San Francisco

NJ activists ready for battle over gay marriage :: EDGE San Francisco

by Geoff Mulvihill
Associated Press
Sunday Aug 23, 2009

VINELAND, N.J.-In a pew of the Chestnut Assembly of God on a Tuesday night, Pat Mannion decided that for the first time in her 58 years, she would get involved in politics. She would call lawmakers and tell neighbors about her cause: Keeping New Jersey from becoming the next state to recognize the marriages of gay couples.

Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro, who also never thought of themselves as activists, made a similar decision about two years ago. They have been talking with legislators about why they believe the state should recognize them as a married couple.

The women have joined the movements as the debate over gay unions in New Jersey goes from the philosophical to the practical, and from the courts to the Legislature.

Both sides -- those who say they want to "protect marriage" as it is, and those who call for "marriage equality" -- are recruiting and mobilizing volunteers to pressure lawmakers.

A bill that would allow gay marriage is expected to be debated in Trenton during the lame-duck period between the Nov. 3 election and start of a new legislative session in January.

In the fall, there probably will be television and radio ads on the issue. But for now, the focus is mostly on the faithful speaking to their representatives in Trenton.

In 2006, the state Supreme Court said that committed gay couples deserved the same treatment as straight married couples. The Legislature responded by making New Jersey the third state to offer civil unions, which give the same legal benefits the state offers to married couples, but not the title of marriage.

That didn’t settle the issue.

As couples first entered into civil unions in February 2007, Garden State Equality chairman Steven Goldstein vowed that within two years, his group would persuade lawmakers and the governor to do what no other state had done -- pass a law recognizing same-sex marriage.

Then, only Massachusetts allowed same-sex marriages, and that was because of a court ruling, not a law.

Goldstein did not meet his deadline, and New Jersey will not be the first state to recognize the marriages under a law.
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