BY TOM HESTER SR.
The Assembly Thursday voted 42 to 33 in favor of legislative to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey. Democrats sponsored and voted in favor of the proposal while Republicans voted against it.
Assembly members Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer), Mary Pat Angelini (R-Ocean), DeClan J. O'Scanlon (R-Monmouth) and Holly Schepisi (R-Union) opted not to take a position on the controversial legislation and did not vote. It was the first major bill Schepisi had to consider since taking office last month.
The bill (A-1/S-1), entitled the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act, was approved 24 to 16 by the Senate on Monday. The measure moves to Gov. Chris Christie who is prepared to veto it.
The legislation would eliminate the state civil unions law that have been in place since 2007. Legislative Democrats argue the law has failed to provide equal treatment to New Jersey’s same-sex couples. The legislation approved Thursday defines marriage as the legally recognized union of two consenting people in a committed relationship.
Christie wants the issue decide by voters through a referendum on the November ballot. The Democrats who control the Legislature maintain a civil rights issue should not be decide by popular vote and have declared they will not send the governor referendum legislation.
The legislation stipulates that no clergy of any religion authorized to solemnize marriage, nor any religious society, institution or organization in the state, would be required to conduct any marriage in violation of their free exercise of religion.
“The ‘freedom to marry’ belongs to all Americans regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation,” Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), a prime sponsor, said. “In a society based on the notion of separation of church and state, it simply goes against our constitution to deny rights to one group because of another group’s religious beliefs. This is the Stonewall of our time, meant to correct the last vestiges of discrimination in our state. For same-sex New Jersey couples and their children, this law will transform their lives.”
Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) said, “The existing civil union law sends the same message to the public that we heard from Jim Crow segregation laws – that same-sex couples and their families are not equal to married couples in the eyes of the law. This legislation would provide everyone in this state – everyone – with the same respect and protections under the law. It eliminates the second-class citizenship status that same-sex couples presently face while protecting freedom of religion. These principles are part of the bedrock of our constitution and should not be dismissed summarily.”