Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Importance of the NJ Decision

Mickey writes on the NJ decision, and makes a good argument that its political effect will be relatively minor. But while we won't have myriad pictures of gay couples flying to Atlantic City to marry, and it won't lead the news on CNN and Fox every half hour, that doesn't mean it won't have a significant impact.

The picture that Mickey paints would be dramatic indeed. It would probably push gay marriage forward as one of the top issues in the election - along with Iraq. Nancy Pelosi would have to address it, and declare how Congressional Democrats would deal with it. I believe that the whole discussion would probably lead to a small, but significant effect among independent voters. Now, none of that is likely.

But midterm elections are base elections, and the discussion all year has been whether the Republican base was as motivated as the Democratic base, and whether evangelicals would be disillusioned with the GOP for a range of reasons, including Mark Foley. I think that has become a much smaller concern now. I suspect that social conservatives will take serious note of this - particularly as it becomes clear that the Supreme Court may ultimately hear a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (challenges have already been brought and rejected, as recently as this month).

Opponents of the DOMA have argued since it was first considered that it is unconstitutional (look here, here, and here for example). The argument holds that giving states the explicit right not to recognize some marriages certified by other states is a violation of the Constitution's 'full faith and credit' clause. It also asserts that DOMA's establishment of heterosexual marriages as the only ones recognized by the federal government is a violation of the 14th amendment's 'equal protection' guarantee.

It is only a matter of time before a court rules that DOMA is unconstitutional, and requires states to provide equal treatment to gay marriages certified by New Jersey, or some other state. That challenge will ultimately go to the Supreme Court. As social conservatives are reminded that their votes this year will influence the makeup of the Supreme Court that hears that challenge, they will come out to vote, and they will 'come home' to the GOP. I think that means an important boost (two points or so?) for Republican candidates in conservative states and districts.

Read Glenn's collection of responses here.

Update: Larry Sabato is always worth a read. Check out his take on the NJ decision here:

A Republican gift of yet-to-be-determined value arrived yesterday in the form of a significant judicial state ruling the Crystal Ball had quietly been anticipating from a distance... The state high court's decision to mandate the legislature to pass full legal rights to New Jersey's same-sex couples could not have come at a worse time for Democrats all across the country...

So long as the GOP is able to both keep the story alive and dedicate some resources to capitalize on it--a big if, might we add--New Jersey's ruling holds the potential to revive dormant conservative hostility towards judicial liberals at a time when many conservatives, disheartened by the Foley scandal and other Washington improprieties, may have considered sitting this midterm out... But more importantly for our purposes, added evangelical turnout could prove a decisive boon to GOP turnout in key races for control of Congress all over the nation--perhaps in Tennessee and Virginia's absolutely crucial Senate races.

The Crystal Ball reads the implications of this political hot potato with caution. It's possible that the story could fade from media memory in a day and ultimately be forgotten by voters; it's also possible that the political impact of the Garden State's ruling could be conveyed by religious conservative organizations under the radar, only surfacing to haunt the Democrats on November 7th. Time will tell...

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