Saturday, September 12, 2009

National ripples may be felt from New Jersey, Virginia

National ripples may be felt from New Jersey, Virginia

Deb Price | Posted: Saturday, September 12, 2009 7:55 am | 1 Comment

Kicking off his re-election bid last June, Gov. Jon Corzine passionately described a vision for New Jersey that includes giving "people the freedom to marry whomever they love."

Corzine's high-profile embrace of same-sex marriage demonstrates how politicians' calculations are changing. A growing number see supporting gay rights - slowly also marriage - as a campaign booster.

In the other state with a gubernatorial election this November, Virginia, gay issues also have emerged in a telling way.

There, Republican Bob McDonnell, a Pat Robertson protege, was knocked back on his heels when The Washington Post published his 93-page graduate thesis, which in 1989 attacked working women, single moms and gays, and claimed "every level of government should statutorily and procedurally prefer married couples over cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators. The cost of sin should fall on the sinner not the taxpayer."

McDonnell wrote his thesis, "The Republican Party's Vision for the Family," at 34, shortly before entering politics, and says he's changed many of his views. But under "protecting families," his website says he "believes marriage is the union between one man and one woman" and boasts that while in the state legislature, he was the "chief sponsor and author" of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Both 2009 gubernatorial races are barn-burners: The Cook Political Report calls each a "tossup." The Rothenberg Political Report agrees on Virginia's open-seat battle, but gives the edge to the GOP in New Jersey.

For gay Americans, the outcome of the races very well could be felt at the national level: If Democrats remain on the defense over health care and then lose both governorships, President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats will be less likely to address the ban on open gays in the military and Uncle Sam's discrimination against gay couples married by their home states.

In New Jersey, Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie offer voters a sharp contrast. Visitors clicking on "Shared Values" on Christie's campaign website learn that the candidate says "marriage should be exclusively between one man and one woman. ... If a bill legalizing same-sex marriage came to my desk as governor, I would veto it. If the law were changed by judicial fiat, I would be in favor of a constitutional amendment."

Corzine is a longtime gay rights supporter - as a U.S. senator, then as governor. In 2006, he signed civil union legislation into law. (Corzine preferred civil unions for gay couples until a state commission reported that civil unions failed to end unequal treatment.) Under his leadership, New Jersey extended paid family leave to gay couples and added gender identity to state anti-discrimination laws.

New Jersey will be fascinating to watch, even after Election Day. The legislature might well pass a marriage bill during a lame duck session, even if Corzine loses. He could sign it into law before the state's window of opportunity closes.

Steven Goldstein, head of the gay Garden State Equality, says, "I wouldn't trade where we're positioned with where (the foes of gay marriage) are positioned."

In Virginia, both candidates oppose gay marriage, but Democrat Creigh Deeds favors a range of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans protections. State Sen. Deeds is a co-sponsor of legislation to ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Adam Ebbin, the only openly gay member of the Virginia House of Delegates, says, "Creigh Deeds has evolved as a person and legislator on gay issues: With Deeds as governor, LGBT Virginians can move forward."

Deeds told Virginia Partisans, a gay Democratic club, that he supports adoption rights for same-sex partners and repealing the 2006 state ban on gay marriage and similar unions.

When Virginia and New Jersey choose between competing visions of the future, their decisions will likely be felt far beyond their borders.

Deb Price of the Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues.

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