NJ Assembly approves marriage equality

AP

Log Cabin Republicans are urging Republican Gov. Chris Christie to support the freedom of marriage and sign – rather than veto – the bill passed by the New Jersey General Assembly and Senate this week.

LCR executive director R. Clarke Cooper, in a statement released early Feb. 17, said, “New Jersey’s elected lawmakers have engaged in a long and respectful debate, and with bipartisan support have voted in favor of the freedom to marry. Log Cabin Republicans now call upon Gov. Chris Christie to ensure liberty for all New Jersey residents by allowing that bill to become law. Despite the governor’s promised veto, New Jersey Republican lawmakers like Sens. Jennifer Beck and Diane Allen voted for the freedom to marry, representing the best conservative values. New Jersey has debated this issue long enough, and with the real and pressing challenges facing our nation there is no need to subject the Garden State to a divisive and costly ballot measure. The Legislature has done its job in Trenton. Gov. Christie, be the leader Republicans know you to be. Choose to be on the right side of history. Please sign this bill.”

The Assembly passed the bill legalizing same-sex marriages on Feb. 16, setting the stage for an anticipated veto by Christie, who opposes gay marriage and had promised “very swift action” if the bill passed both houses of the Legislature. The Senate approved the bill Feb. 13.

Christie and most state Republican lawmakers want gay marriage put to a popular vote. Democrats say gay marriage is a civil right protected by the Constitution and not subject to referendum.

Seven states, including Washington and Washington, D.C. recognize gay marriages.

The affirmative vote in the New Jersey Assembly ended weeks of speculation over whether Democrats who control the chamber would muster the 41 votes needed for the measure to pass.

The Senate passed the bill 24-16. In that chamber, two Republicans voted for the bill and two Democrats voted against it in what was otherwise a party-line vote.

The bill would need several Republican votes in each house to override the governor; Christie himself essentially guaranteed that that won’t happen.

With that in mind, Democrats who identified same-sex marriage as their No. 1 priority for the two-year legislative session that began in January have adopted a longer view. They say there’s no rush for an override vote, especially because the Legislature has been unsuccessful in every prior attempt to override Christie, most notably to reinstate a surcharge on millionaires.

Instead, they plan to bide their time in hopes that support for gay marriage currently 52-42 percent in New Jersey, according to one recent voter poll will continue to grow.

“Civil rights is incremental, civil rights is long range, and you take one achievement at a time,” said Steven Goldstein, head of the state’s largest gay rights group, Garden State Equality.

In case same-sex couples can’t win gay marriage through legislation, they have engaged in a parallel fight in the courts. Seven gay couples and several of their children have sued, claiming that the state’s civil union law doesn’t work as intended.

Civil unions were designed to provide the benefits of marriage to gay couples without the title. They were adopted after the Supreme Court instructed the Legislature to provide marriage equality to same-sex couples.

The state’s own review commission has since found problems with the law, however, and many same-sex couples have backed that up with testimony before the Legislature.

Gay rights advocates say civil unions have not provided true equality. They complain that they set up a separate and inherently unequal classification for gays something social conservatives dispute.

A gay marriage bill was defeated in the Senate two years ago, just before Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat who supported the measure, left office. Advocates’ hopes dimmed with the arrival of Christie, a Republican who spoke against gay marriage when asked about it during his campaign.

This time around, advocates have presented gay marriage as a civil rights issue. The bill includes an exemption for religious leaders, institutions and facilities, meaning no one would be required to perform, host or lease space for a gay marriage.

Republican Sen. Kip Bateman of Somerset has taken a different approach. He recently drafted a resolution asking voters to approve gay marriage at the ballot. The resolution must be approved by the Legislature to be placed on the ballot in November, which Senate President Steve Sweeney has already said he won’t allow.