October 6, 2006

Foley Scandal: Antidote to Potential NJ Backlash?

Posted at 12:44 am (Pacific Time)

The New Jersey Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision this month in Lewis v. Harris, the case challenging that state’s marriage laws.

Many gay rights attorneys are hopeful the Court will rule that same-sex couples have the right to marry in the Garden State. Such a ruling, however, could motivate conservative Christians nationally to come to the polls in large numbers in November, thereby foiling the Democrats’ hopes of taking control of one or both houses of Congress.

Now the Mark Foley scandal has created new uncertainty about the potential impact of a favorable New Jersey decision.

Is it possible that conservatives’ disgust over the Republican leadership’s handling of the scandal could neutralize their opposition to marriage equality? Might they stay home on election day, despite their concerns about marriage equality in New Jersey?

Or would a pro-gay ruling by the NJ Court revitalize conservatives and get them to the polls to vote Republican after all — especially in states with anti-marriage measures on the ballot?

Those states include Virginia, where Republican incumbent George Allen faces a strong challenge in the Senate race. Might Allen’s reelection chances be boosted by a pro-gay decision in New Jersey?

It seems likely that one important factor would be whether cultural conservatives believe Republican candidates deserve their votes despite the Foley debacle, or whether they now see Republicans as no better than Democrats on their issues.

Of course, if the Court rules against same-sex couples, the marriage equality issue will probably lose some of its national potency, at least in the 2006 elections. (Though it’s likely to remain important in the states with ballot measures.)

For now, however, the New Jersey ruling’s potential effect on the election outcome remains anyone’s guess.

Copyright © 2006 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.