New Jersey’s legislative leadership announced today that their first bill of the new session will be legalizing gay marriage.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, who abstained on this bill during the last days of Jon Corzine’s administration, now says he made a mistake. Further, he says that his decision calculus two years ago was politically driven, but this time it is not.
I’m not saying that Sen. Sweeney has not had a change of heart on the issue. I believe he has. But to bring it up now, when it is all but certain that Gov. Christie will veto the bill makes it hard to overlook the political implications of making it the governor go on record.
There were three key messages espoused by proponents at today’s press conference. Each had a political undercurrent. Let’s break them down.
“Civil unions are a failed experiment.” – This is an appeal to public opinion. Polls show that New Jerseyans have become more supportive of gay marriage over the past few years. An Eagleton-Rutgers Poll released in October found 52 percent of state residents saying gay marriage should be legal. Some analysis I did a few years ago on the strength of this support indicates that majority support levels are soft and susceptible to shift.
So, public support for gay marriage is not definitively in the majority yet. However, the same Eagleton poll found that support for “marriage equality” is decidedly in the majority at 61 percent. If gay marriage advocates can convince the public that the only way to achieve this equality is through “marriage” they are on track to solidifying public support.
“It’s a civil rights issue.” – This is an appeal to the Democrats’ own base. Two years ago, the gay marriage bill passed in the Assembly but garnered only 14 affirmative votes in the Senate.
Sen. Sweeney indicated that he will have the 21 votes needed for passage, but it’s uncertain if he will have any more than that. And when Sen. Loretta Weinberg announced that Jen Beck “was going to try to be here” at the press conference, it suggested that the Republican senator’s support would be necessary.
Back in 2010, it was believed that Beck would be among a small group of GOP legislators to support gay marriage. She ended up voting no after then-Governor-elect Christie instructed his fellow Republicans not to saddle him with pressure from the right to repeal gay marriage as he entered office.
Beck had a change of heart last year and said she now supports gay marriage. It’s probably only a coincidence that she made her support known after the new legislative map plonked Asbury Park in her district.