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Marriage ruling resonates

October 28, 2006|Stephanie Simon | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, a small newspaper in western Colorado, last week urged voters to reject a proposed state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. "The traditional concept of marriage is not endangered in this state," the paper wrote.

On Friday, the editorial page editor, Bob Silbernagel, said he had changed his mind.

He was jolted, he said, by the New Jersey Supreme Court decision this week that granted gay and lesbian couples in that state all the rights and benefits of marriage. The court left it up to legislators to decide whether to call such partnerships marriages or civil unions.

Before the New Jersey ruling, Silbernagel said, he had largely stopped worrying about this issue, lulled by a flurry of decisions rejecting same-sex marriage in New York, Washington state and elsewhere. The ruling in New Jersey was his wake-up call.

"We had thought it was adequate to have clear language in state law that marriage was only the union of one woman and one man," Silbernagel said. Now, he said, he realizes that's naive: If a court in New Jersey can grant same-sex couples equal rights, so can a court in Colorado.

So he dashed off a six-paragraph retraction of his earlier editorial. The new piece informed the Daily Sentinel's 30,000 readers that Amendment 43 was "a virtual necessity."

The change of opinion expressed in a small Colorado paper probably will not affect the outcome on election day: The ban on same-sex marriage is expected to pass handily; a poll in mid-September found 52% of voters in support, 42% against.

But the Daily Sentinel's reversal thrilled conservatives who are hoping the New Jersey ruling will help their cause in races across the country. Republicans in close Senate races in Virginia and Tennessee have moved to capitalize on the issue by proclaiming their opposition to same-sex marriage. President Bush raised the subject during campaign stops for Republicans in Iowa and Michigan.

"The New Jersey ruling could be the 'October surprise' that galvanizes social conservatives and sends values voters to the polls in record numbers," said Bill Maier, a vice president of the conservative ministry Focus on the Family.

Lisa Moreno, who's working to defeat the Colorado amendment, wasn't so sure: "I think most Coloradans see through that."

Meanwhile, Silbernagel said he had gotten very little response to his about-face -- just one letter by late afternoon. On the paper's website, the editorial barely made it into the top-10 list of most viewed stories. More popular: an article about this week's local snowfall -- all 0.18 inches.

stephanie.simon@latimes.com

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