TRENTON – Leading Democrats made marriage equality the first order of business of the new legislative session this week, introducing a bill to fully recognize same-sex unions as “marriage” under state law.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Sen. Raymond Lesniak introduced the measure symbolically numbered S-1 on Tuesday, when it was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Assembly version of the bill, A-1, will be sponsored by Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer).
“This is about doing what’s right and ensuring full equal and civil rights for all New Jerseyans,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “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.”
Two years ago, during the final days of Gov. Jon Corzine’s administration, the Legislature failed to pass a same-sex marriage bill that the governor had pledged to sign. Christie has not commented on the pending legislation, but vowed to veto same-sex marriage legislation before he took office in 2010.
“Marriage equality is a concept whose time has simply come in New Jersey,” said Weinberg (D-Bergen). “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.”
In announcing the symbolic designation of the “Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act” as S-1, Sweeney also announced he would be joining Lesniak and Weinberg as a prime sponsor of the measure. He said he would direct the Judiciary Committee to put the bill on an expedited hearing schedule so it could be taken up by the full Senate as soon as possible.
Sweeney said he expects bipartisan support for the legislation.
“Passing marriage equality does not hurt anyone, but failing to pass it will continue to keep thousands of loving, committed couples shackled to second-class citizenship,” said Lesniak (D-Union). “For those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious terms, this measure will do them and their faith no harm. But it will lift the growing majority of New Jerseyans who believe same-sex couples should have every right to be joined in marriage.”
While the measure would give legal recognition to marriages of same-sex couples, clergy and others who object on religious grounds would be exempted from having to perform a ceremony; a provision mirrored in the marriage equality law enacted in 2011 in New York State by bipartisan vote.
The lawmakers said that they would remain hopeful that once passed, the governor would not stand in the way of its enactment; under the state constitution, a bill becomes law within 45 days of passage even if the governor does not sign it.
“If the governor cannot raise himself by signing a law to ensure a basic civil right for all residents, we would hope that he would not lower himself by vetoing it,” said Sweeney.
A poll conducted by Public Policy Polling last summer showed that 47 percent of New Jersey voters favored legalizing same-sex marriage, while 42 percent were opposed.
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