Senate passes NJ marriage equality bill to applause

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Chris Christie
Chris Christie

On Monday, the New Jersey Senate voted to approve the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act by 24-16. The bill, known as S. 1 in the Senate, allows gay and lesbian couples to enter into a civil marriage while protecting the freedom of religious organizations to choose whether they will perform same-gender marriages.

“Today’s victory represents an astounding 70 percent increase in support in the Senate since it defeated the bill 14 to 20 in January 2010,” wrote Steven Goldstein on the website for Garden State Equality, NJ’s largest LGBT rights organization.

 

Republican Governor Chris Christie has vowed to veto any same-gender marriage bill that crosses his desk. Instead, he supports a voter referendum on the issue. Of the vote in the Senate, Christie said, “Yesterday was a good bunch of theater, but that’s all it was. It was theater,” according to ThinkProgress.org. To override a veto, the Senate would then have about two years, until the end of the legislative session, to find three additional votes.

In an email, Len Deo wrote, “We will maintain the fight for marriage in the Assembly, we look forward to the Governor’s veto, and we will continue to push for an amendment to preserve and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” Deo is the founder and president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, one of the New Jersey groups opposed to same-gender marriage equality.

Arriving as early as 7AM, supporters of the bill slightly outnumbered opponents in the Senate chamber. An overflow room needed to be set up as the gallery filled with supporters dressed in blue and opponents dressed in red. The session opened with a prayer mentioning Whitney Houston, the gay icon and New Jerseyan who passed away last weekend.

Senate President Steve Sweeney abstained from voting on the previous same-gender marriage bill in 2010. This time around he is a prime sponsor of the bill. The Democrat told his colleagues that legislators “cannot discriminate against people of faith.” He emphasized that religious leaders will have the right to marry or refuse to marry same-gender couples. Sweeney finished by speaking of the “courageous Republicans who fought their party bosses to do the right thing” in the successful bid for marriage equality in NJ.

“The civil union bill is flawed,” said sponsor Loretta Weinburg (D). “If you don’t believe in gay marriage, do not enter into one,” she said, sparking laughter from those in attendance. She opposes the current civil union law as “government-sanctioned, legally justified, homophobia.” In response to Republican Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman’s move to have a voter referendum on marriage, Weinburg reminded her colleagues that NJ’s Senators were voted in as representatives of the people. She found it “offensive” for the bill to go for popular vote, mentioning a 1915 referendum that denied women the right to vote by a 2-1 margin.

Another sponsor and Democrat, Raymond Lesniak, spoke eloquently about NJ’s history as a national leader in civil rights, giving women the right to vote and abolishing slavery and segregation decades before the rest of the country. “Are you going to soar like an eagle or follow like a sheep?” he asked, imploring his colleagues to vote in favor.

Opposing the bill was Senator Gerald Cardinale. The Republican voiced fears of a well-financed LGBT lobby that has been influencing society’s values. Cardinale felt that marriage equality would devalue other, non-romantic relationships and would bring about marriages of convenience between cohabitating friends and care-taking family members. “This bill opens Pandora’s box,” he said, stating that no one can foresee the far-reaching effects that same-gender marriage could have on New Jersey.

Former opponent of marriage equality Jennifer Beck spoke in favor of the bill, saying, “We should focus on protecting all individuals. Today, we have some among us who are separate but not equal.” Beck was one of two Republicans who voted for the bill with Diane Allen. Democrats Jeff Van Drew and Ron Rice joined Republicans in voting against the bill.

After about an hour of testimony, Sweeney called for the vote. The bill passed narrowly with 24 yes votes and 16 no votes. The chamber erupted into resounding applause from those watching forcing Sweeney to pause the session until opponents and supporters had filed out of the room.

 

Outside of the State House, straight-ally Adriana Munson was overjoyed by the vote. “I’ve been married for 42 years,” she said. “I want everyone to have the same rights.” Jenn Harris added, “I’m excited that I will finally be able to marry. It’s what we’ve been waiting for.” Harris worked in Garden State Equality’s Asbury Park office during the unsuccessful marriage equality campaign of 2009-2010.

This Thursday, the New Jersey Assembly will be voting on the companion bill, A. 1. Openly gay Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) is a prime sponsor of the bill. He expects it  to pass in the Assembly but does not seem to have the votes to overcome Christie’s promised veto. In a statement, Gusciora praised the recent ruling on Proposition 8 by the 9th Circuit Court in California, saying that the decision is “an affirmation of true equality, but more importantly, it’s an affirmation that the proper path to equal rights for same-sex couples in New Jersey is through the legislature, lest we subject our state to the type of costly and divisive campaign California underwent in 2008.” Prop. 8 was a ballot initiative in California that revoked the right for same-gender couples to marry.

After the Assembly vote, Garden State Equality will host a reception in the ballroom of the Trenton Marriott for what they say will be a huge celebration. The Trenton Marriott is at 1 West Lafayette Street, three blocks from the State House. GSE suggests those going on Thursday to the State House park at the Marriott earlier in the morning when you arrive in Trenton for the day.

For those unable to be there live stay tuned this Thursday with Out In Jersey as we update you LIVE from the State House for the Assembly vote via Twitter (@OutInJersey) and Facebook where we will have the latest quotes and a running commentary from Trenton.

The vote breakdown in the New Jersey Senate was as follows by district:

YES VOTES

Jim Whelan, (D-2), Atlantic City

Steve Sweeney, (D-3), West Deptford

Fred Madden, (D-4), Washington Township

Donald Norcross, (D-5), Camden

Jim Beach, (D-6), Voorhees

Diane Allen, (R-7), Edgewater Park

Jennifer Beck, (R-11), Red Bank

Linda Greenstein, (D-14), Plainsboro

Shirley Turner, (D-15), Lawrenceville

Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway

Barbara Buono, (D-18), Metuchen

Joe Vitale, (D-19), Woodbridge

Ray Lesniak, (D-20), Elizabeth

Nicholas Scutari, (D-22), Linden

Richard Codey, (D-27), Roseland

M. Teresa Ruiz, (D-29), Newark

Sandra Cunningham, (D-31), Jersey City

Nick Sacco, (D-32), North Bergen

Brian Stack, (D-33), Union City

Nia Gill, (D-34), Montclair

Nellie Pou, (D-35), North Haledon

Paul Sarlo, (D-36), Wood-Ridge

Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), Teaneck

Robert Gordon, (D-38), Fair Lawn

 

NO  VOTES

Jeff Van Drew, (D-1), Middle Township

Dawn Marie Addiego, (R-8), Evesham

Chris Connors, (R-9), Lacey Township

James Holzapfel, (R-10), Toms River

Sam Thompson, (R-12), Old Bridge

Joe Kyrillos, (R-13), Middletown

Kip Bateman, (R-16), of Branchburg

Tom Kean Jr., (R-21), Westfield

Mike Doherty, (R-23), Oxford Township

Steve Oroho, (R-24), Franklin Township

Tony Bucco, (R-25), Boonton

Joe Pennacchio, (R-26), Montville

Ron Rice, (D-28), Newark

Robert Singer, (R-30), Lakewood

Gerry Cardinale, (R-39), Demarest

Kevin O’Toole, (R-40), Cedar Grove

On Monday, the New Jersey Senate voted to approve the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act by 24-16. The bill, known as S. 1 in the Senate, allows gay and lesbian couples to enter into a civil marriage while protecting the freedom of religious organizations to choose whether they will perform same-gender marriages.