NJ gay marriage decision boost to "values voters"
By Ed Stoddard2 hours, 26 minutes ago
U.S. religious conservatives could be energized by a New Jersey Supreme Court decision granting gay couples the same rights as married heterosexuals and could tilt the balance for Republicans in close races in the November 7 congressional elections, analysts and activists say.
"Hot button social issues have come alive again. ... The Iraq issue had taken away from the social issues that religious conservatives wanted to focus on," said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the PEW Research Center.
"This decision at least gives them a news hook to restart that discussion," he told Reuters.
Races where the decision could have an impact include the Senate race in Virginia, where Republican Sen. George Allen (news, bio, voting record)'s fumbling have opened the door to Democrat Jim Webb.
Virginia is one of eight states where voters will be asked to decide on November 7 on constitutional amendments limiting gay marriage or unions.
"In a close election almost anything can make a difference and Virginia is one state where this could happen. ... If it helps to mobilize Christian conservatives it could potentially give George Allen a bit of an uptick," said Keeter.
Wednesday's decision, which left it to state lawmakers to decide if gay unions can be called marriage, is not seen pressing conservative buttons as hard as a 2003 Massachusetts court ruling that it was unconstitutional to ban gay marriage.
In the 2004 election, many states had ballot initiatives limiting gay marriage -- a factor credited with boosting support for President George W. Bush as social conservatives flock came to the polls.
LAWMAKERS AS HENCHMEN?
But there is no doubt that buttons have been pressed.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, an influential conservative lobby group, said the decision should "should give momentum to the eight states with marriage protection amendments on the November ballot."
He also said that the New Jersey court had made "the legislature their henchmen ... as the legislature has the non choice of creating same-sex marriage or marriage of same-sex persons called civil unions.
Other powerful conservative groups such as Focus on the Family have also been galvanized by the decision which they see as a threat to the traditional family and by extension their vision of a functioning society.
But some conservatives say they are unconcerned about the prospect of gay marriage.
"I may not feel comfortable with gay marriage but society is not going to implode if gays can marry. I'm not losing any sleep over it," Tom Nutt, a Dallas-based pilot, told Reuters in an interview in a coffee shop.