2012-JAN 09 to 12: Bills introduced to Legislature.
Columnist recommends Gov. Christie sign bill.
In this essay:
"SSM" refers to same-sex marriage;
LGBT refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons
2012-JAN-09: NJ: SSM bills A1 and S1 introduced:
On JAN-10, the first day of the new legislative session. Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature introduced bills A1 and S1 to legalize SSM in the state. The numbering was chosen to indicate that SSM is the highest priority for the Democratic Party in New Jersey during 2012. 1
The bill contains two "religious freedom to discriminate" clauses that would allow religious groups to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages and to refuse to rent out their facilities to same-sex couples:
One would protect clergy and religious groups who wish to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages. They could. with impunity, tell a same-sex couple with a valid marriage license to get lost. This is a redundent clause because clergy have always had the right under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to refuse to marry a couple for any reason. Past refusals have happened because the couple were interracial, they appeared to immature, they did not appear sincere, etc. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, priests have refused couples because one of the spouses was physically disabled.
The other clause would protect any "religious society, institution or organization, or any employee thereof" who wished to refuse services for same-sex couples wishing to get married. This would presumably include couples who wanted to rent a church hall for a reception, or register for an introduction to marriage course such as one that the Catholic Church and a few other churches run, etc. 2
A similar bill introduced in 2009 was defeated in 2010-JAN by a Senate vote of 20 to 14, with three abstentions. Democrats are hopeful that the bill will pass both the Assembly and Senate during the current session. It is sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeny (D) who seeks to "right a wrong" by not having voting the last time the issue came up for a vote. Sweeney said:
"This is about doing what’s right and ensuring full equal and civil rights for all New Jerseyans. Two years ago, I made a mistake in abstaining on marriage equality – a mistake that means same-sex couples continue to be denied the very basic civil right to live their lives as they wish. But today isn’t about me correcting my mistake, it’s about correcting a mistake for thousands of loving couples across the state who want nothing more than to be treated equally as their neighbors." 1
Democratic legislators issued a joint statement:
"New Jersey has a proud history of civil rights leadership, and we must continue our role in pursuing fairness and equality. [Six] Other states [and the District of Columbia] with a combined population of more than 35 million people already have marriage equality – including our next door neighbor, New York. The marriage equality bill in the New Jersey legislature needs your support.”
State Senator Loretta Weinberg (D) said:
"Marriage equality is a concept whose time has simply come in New Jersey. Devoted same-sex couples all across New Jersey are raising families and rebuilding communities, yet can’t call their relationships what they really are, a marriage. If love is said to be blind, then so must the state in recognizing that all people should have a right to marry. We must correct an injustice that has hurt far too many loving couples for far too long. This fight is about civil law and civil rights, nothing more and nothing less." 1
Steven Goldstein, president of Garden State Equality, a pro-marriage equality group, suggested that the influence of Andrew Cuomo of New York will influence legislators in New Jersey. Goldstein said:
"You might call it the Andrew Cuomotization of legislators in New Jersey. Andrew Cuomo has set the stage for the legislature in New Jersey and in other states, by championing the cause or marriage equality not begrudgingly but with gusto. And that’s happening in New Jersey now." 3
Goldstein said that he: "... doesn't believe there are any circumstances under which Christie, a national GOP figure who is often talked about as a future presidential prospect, would sign a gay marriage bill." 4 Governor Chris Christie (R) is opposed to SSM and has vice-presidential ambitions for 2012. Signing a SSM bill into law or even letting such a bill become law through inaction would hopelessly damage his future prospects in the Republican Party.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D) said:
"All evidence shows New Jersey's civil union law falls far short in providing equality. Civil unions send a message to the public that same-sex couples and their families are not equal to married couples in the eyes of the law. It sends a message that same-sex couples are not good enough to warrant equality.'' 5
John Tomicki, president of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage -- a group dedicated to preventing loving, committed same-sex couples from marrying --, predicted a second legislative defeat. He said:
"At this time, we still are confident they do not have the 21 votes for passage. Senate President Sweeney has clearly changed his position. But we would note for the record that whenever this issue has been put up for a vote by citizens in every other state, marriage has been uniquely upheld by the voters as a union of one man and one woman." 3
Even if the Assembly and Senate passed the SSM bill it is almost certain to be vetoed by Governor. It is extremely unlikely that both the Assembly and the Senate would achieve a veto-proof majority.
In New Jersey, those voters who support SSM are roughly equal in number to those who oppose it. Nate Silver, statistician at the New York Times predicted in mid-2011 that if a referendum were held on election day 2012, the vote would be too close to call. 6 He used two statistical models to predict the outcome. One model assumed that the recent surge in support for SSM continues into 2012; that model indicates that a referendum to ban SSM would be defeated about 54% to 46%. The other model assumed that the increase in support for SSM would continue at the same rate as it has in previous years. That model indicated that the referendum would pass by an extremely closed vote: 50.7% to 49.3%. It would probably take until at least 2015 before voters' support would be strong enough to decisively defeat a referendum to ban SSM. These values are approximately equal to his predictions for the states of Nevada and Delaware.
2012-JAN-12: Columnist in New Jersey newspapers recommends that the governor sign the SSM bill:
Phil Gianficaro's weekly column in the Courier Times, The Intelligencer, and Burlington County Times newspapers that in the event that the Democrat-controlled House and Senate passes A1 and S1, then:
"Permitting same-sex partners to marry in New Jersey shouldn’t hinge on the signature of a governor with a personal bias.
Nor should it hinge on the objections of influential voices throughout the state waving church doctrines that have no business in government business.
It’s wrong for Gov. Chris Christie, who has said he’d veto any such bill, to retain veto power because same-sex marriage doesn’t fit into the Republican’s personal beliefs of what constitutes marriage. His personal beliefs shouldn’t serve as the tire-blowing board of nails that slows the passage of this right, which is clearly inevitable."
The governor is charged with the authority to ensure equal rights for all New Jerseyans, not just those with whom his personal beliefs agree. I believe that for him to proceed in any other fashion would constitute a dereliction of duty. ..."
"Civil unions in New Jersey, enacted in 2006, have failed miserably in affording same-sex couples the rights of married couples. The New Jersey Senate’s Judiciary Committee heard testimony two years ago of instances of employers refusing to grant equal benefits to civil union partners, and of hospitals refusing visitation and medical-decision rights based on their view that civil unions are not equal to marriage." 7
Governor Christie was scheduled to give his "State of the State" speech on 2011-JAN-17. He might hint at his thoughts on whether to veto the bill to create SSMs in his state.