Jersey Revives Same-Sex Marriage Debate

"There are currently no leading presidential candidates that support full marriage equality," said Rouse. "But many of them have expressed support for benefits, which is at least a step in the right direction."

Hecht agrees that there are few candidates in the 2008 presidential campaign so far who show much promise for giving gays and lesbians marriage rights.

"Unfortunately, political candidates are fearful of a backlash among voters when it comes to gay rights," said Hecht. "I have a problem with any candidate that runs and is not inclusive of the gay and lesbian community."

"I hope that at least one of the candidates will think about the gay and lesbian community because we need to be included," she said. "Our issues are just as important as issues within the African-American community, unemployment, the war."

Same-Sex Marriage: A Political Wedge Issue?

However, Rouse said that he fears that as the 2008 presidential election campaign heats up, the candidates will use gay marriage as a wedge issue.

During the 2004 election campaign, the politics of gay marriage were pushed to the fore when President Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said he supported civil unions and equal protection for gays and lesbians but opposed same-sex marriage.

"The lives of gay Americans are used as political pawns again and again," said Rouse.

"Same-sex couples are trying to raise their families, are struggling against discrimination every day and by using these people to further their own political causes, their lives and needs will be distorted," said Rouse.

New Jersey's History of Gay Politics

The state of New Jersey has some growing gay-friendly communities, including Ashbury Park and Jersey City.

In Jersey City, the city hall is closed for Presidents Day, but the clerk's office will open for about an hour tonight at 7:00 p.m. in order to accommodate a few same-sex couples who plan on applying for their civil union license.

Hecht expects anywhere from 80 to 100 people to come to Jersey City to apply for a civil union license and celebrate the new law.

However, New Jersey wasn't always known for accommodating same-sex partnerships.

Many gays and lesbians were disappointed to learn that former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey hid his homosexuality in order to further his political career.

McGreevey resigned as governor of New Jersey in 2004 after announcing that he was gay and had an affair with a male staffer.

During a book tour, McGreevey said he opposed same-sex marriage because he feared that supporting it would kill his political career.

"I was proud to be against gay marriage because that's where I thought a majority of New Jerseyans were," he told the Associated Press at the time.

"I did not want to be identified as being gay, and it was the safe place to be. That's successful politics."

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