On the eve of the election, anti-gay-marriage commentator Stanley Kurtz assessed the likely impact of the results on the future of same-sex marriage politics. First, he suggested, there were important immediate implications for New Jersey, where the state supreme court had just ordered the legislature to grant equal rights to gay families.
If Menendez wins by four points or more, that sends the message that New Jersey's gay marriage decision had no harmful political effect on the Democrats. And that will tend to free New Jersey state legislators to risk approving full-fledged same-sex marriage. If, on the other hand, Kean defeats Menendez, that will be read as a message from New Jersey voters rejecting the court decision. Victory for Kean would maximize the chances that New Jersey's state legislature would approve "only" civil unions. And a big Kean upset might even push Democratic legislators, fearing for their seats in 2007, to join with Republicans to approve a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. So a great deal hangs on the outcome of the Kean-Menendez battle.
Menendez won, 53%-45%. That's double the margin that Kurtz predicted would "free New Jersey state legislators to risk approving full-fledged same-sex marriage" when they take up the issue in the next six months.
Second, he suggested a possible national impact:
Although there are many more complicating factors at the national level, the same political calculus does apply (or will be applied) nationally, though certainly to a lesser degree. If, in the wake of the New Jersey decision, the Democrats take over both the House and the Senate, it will be said that the gay marriage issue has lost its power to motivate voters. That in turn will embolden state judges to follow New Jersey's lead, and will make a Democratic congress far less likely to pass a federal marriage amendment in the event that New Jersey or some other state provokes a crisis by legalizing gay marriage, thus becoming a national gay "Las Vegas" some time in the next two years.
If, on the other hand, the Republicans come back at this late date and narrowly retain both houses of Congress, it will be said that the New Jersey decision helped to energize the voters. That will tend to keep activist judges bottled up, and will lay the political groundwork for a federal marriage amendment, if and when gay marriage spreads to more states.
The Democrats took the House. The Senate is up for grabs, but the Democrats have a slight edge.
There were even bigger and more direct messages about the politics of gay marriage in this election. I'll have more to say about that soon.