Church Lobbying Effective in NJ Same-Sex Marriage Debate

Article excerpt

TRENTON, N.J. Even before the final vote tally, backers of a same-sex marriage bill in the New Jersey Senate knew it would fall short, cosponsor Sen. Loretta Weingberg, D-Teaneck, said following the Jan. 7 vote.

The bill needed 21 votes to pass; it garnered only 14, with a lone Republican supporter. Twenty senators voted against the measure, including six Democrats.

Key to the defeat of the measure, opponents and supporters agreed, was the lobbying effort mounted by the Catholic church.

"[The bishops] were critical," said Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, a Catholic and a lead sponsor of the bill. "They defeated it," he added. "The bishops lobbied lawmakers directly, getting people to make phone calls, send e-mails, arrange meetings with legislators. It was the most intensive lobbying by the Catholic church that I have ever seen."

For months the New Jersey bishops and their lobbying arm, the New Jersey Catholic Conference, spoke out against the same-sex marriage legislation--from the pulpit, in press releases, in statehouse testimony, and through more than 150,000 signatories on a petition against the measure.

The bishops also designated Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009, as a "day of prayer for the vocation and sacrament of marriage," saying that "society faces serious challenges" from proposed same-sex marriage legislation "that would change the definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman."

But the battle is not yet over, as gay marriage advocates vowed to fight on in state court.

"We're not waiting out the term of any new administration to bring equality to same-sex couples," Steven Goldstein, chairperson of the pro-gay marriage advocacy group Garden State Equality, told reporters following the vote. Goldstein was referring to incoming Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie, who was to take office Jan. 19. Christie has made clear he opposes same-sex marriage and will "not sign a bill if it came to my desk."

In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously that same-sex couples must be treated equally under the state constitution. …