Marriage rights in New Jersey: local voices

On Tuesday, the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to clear then Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act (S1 and A1, identical).  WHen Senator Kip Bateman, R-Somerville, voted No, a member of the audience yelled, “Chicken!”  There was a crowd of about 150 onlookers at the 4 hour meeting, with only about 25 against marriage equality.

At the same time as the meeting, Gov. Chris Christie was in Bridgewater calling for a voter referendum to be placed on the 2012 ballot, transparently trying to affect New Jersey’s voting for president.

And he actually had the audacity to say,

The institution of marriage is too serious to be treated like a political football.  I would hope the Legislature would be willing to trust the people the way I’m willing to trust the people.

Chris Christie

Republicans are all for letting the people vote on equal rights, unless they vote in some way contrary to what they want (see Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire et. al.).

I am astounded that Christie and other republicans are “willing to accept marriage equality as the law of the land” if the voters approved it.  Willing to accept???  As opposed to what?

I think the phrasing they use here says a hell of a lot.

I’m proud to say there has been substantial push-back locally.  Newark Mayor Cory Booker for instance, responded as follows:

I shudder to think what would have happened if the civil rights gains, heroically established by courageous lawmakers in the 1960s, were instead conveniently left up to popular votes in our 50 states.

Equal protection under the law – for race, religion, gender or sexual orientation – should not be subject to the most popular sentiments of the day.  Marriage equality is not a choice. It is a legal right. I hope our leaders in Trenton will affirm and defend it.

–Mayor Cory Booker, Newark

I’ve got a right … that if I die and I’m married, this first-class citizenship that I have says that wife will get to avoid the estate taxes.  The second-class citizens in our country don’t have those rights.

It’s about time we create first-class citizenship for every American, every New Jerseyan.

Cory Booker

Booker was not alone among local officials.

When I have agreed with the governor, as I did with the 2 percent tax cap and pension and healthcare reform, I have not hesitated to make my voice heard.  When I do not agree, it is my responsibility to voice my views.  While I applaud Governor Christie for nominating the first openly gay judge to the state Supreme Court, I strongly urge him to change his mind and sign the Marriage Equality Act when it is passed by the legislature.  It is simply the right thing to do.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver concurred.  She was especially offended by Christie’s comment that bloodshed might have been avoided in the American South if only the civil rights struggles of the 60’s had been decided by public referendum:

Governor, people were fighting and dying in the streets of the South because the majority refused to grant minorities equal rights by any method.  It took legislative action to bring justice to all Americans, just as legislative action is the right way to bring marriage equality to all New Jerseyans.

Sheila Oliver’s The Record is also in opposition:

Senate President Stephen Sweeney has said he will not be calling for a referendum on marriage equality. Nor should he. The people have voted already, when they elected their representatives to Trenton.

Those representatives, whether in the Senate or the Assembly, must now vote their conscience on this, the defining civil rights issue of our time. Those legislators need not look to a referendum or to the governor to decide how to vote on this bill. They need only to look within themselves. Pass marriage equality legislation.

The Record

Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times:

Mr. Christie knows perfectly well that ballot initiatives are a terrible way to handle government. They are easily manipulated and generally attract a low turnout. In any case, it is his and the state legislature’s duty to set right this fundamental wrong. (Does Mr. Christie think voters should decide which of their neighbors deserve equal treatment under the law? Should citizens, rather than state legislatures, have decided the fate of the 19th amendment?)

“Marriage equality isn’t like sports betting,” said Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat. “It’s a civil right, which is already guaranteed in our Constitution. It’s up to the Legislature to guarantee these rights.”

That’s very well put.

By the way, Mr. Christie’s bad faith is a real contrast with the actions of Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who introduced a bill in that state’s senate to make good on the constitution’s promise of equality. A marriage rights bill also seems to be getting decisive support in the Washington State Senate-despite a hearing in which bigots compared supporters of equal rights for all Americans with Adolf Hitler, and same-sex marriage with polygamy.

The Loyal Opposition

Lesniak says the Senate has between 24 and 27 supporters for the legislation.  27 would be needed to override a veto.  Oliver says the bill currently has majority support in the Assembly and that she would work to line up the remainder of the 54 votes that would be needed to override a veto.

Lesniak, a Democrat representing Union County, counted up to 23 Democrats and four Republicans as supporting a gay marriage, but wouldn’t disclose specific names of those he believes would vote to override a veto.


A Quinnipiac poll from last week says that New Jersey voters support marriage equality by 52% to 42%.

In today’s survey, support for same-sex marriage is 62 – 33 percent among Democrats and 54 – 38 percent among independent voters. Republicans are opposed 59 – 35 percent. White Catholics support it 50 – 45 percent while white Protestants are opposed 51 – 44 percent. Voters who attend religious services weekly are opposed 58 – 36 percent, while voter who attend services less frequently support same-sex marriage 61 – 33 percent.

On related issues, New Jersey voter opinions are:

65 – 32 percent that same-sex marriage is not a threat to traditional marriage;

53 – 45 percent that denying same-sex marriage is discrimination;

69 – 26 percent support for New Jersey’s same-sex civil union law;

66 – 29 percent support allowing same-sex couples to adopt children.


    • Robyn on January 28, 2012 at 00:11

    Our opponents actually have the audacity to tell us that the reason our civil unions are not treated like marriages is our fault…GLBT subterfuge.

    • TMC on January 28, 2012 at 01:56

    that should not be left up to general consensus, civil rights and civil liberties come to mind. If slavery and voting rights had been left up to the people we would still have slavery and women would still not be able to vote.

Comments have been disabled.