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.”
Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Monmouth) said, “This issue evokes strong emotion on both sides and we know the reality of the situation: there are not enough Democrat and Republican votes to override a veto and Governor Christie has consistently said he believes this decision belongs to the people and a majority of New Jersey agrees with him.
Today’s vote provides false hope to people who want to legalize same-sex marriage. We all know the quickest path right now for same-sex marriage is a public vote in November that would immediately make it legal and protected by the Constitution. A majority of New Jersey, including those who have opposite opinions on this issue, share a common belief that this should be decided by public referendum, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released this week. Unlike other states, here in New Jersey, our question is for voters to affirmatively approve, not ban gay marriage. Let’s put this on the ballot and give people the right to decide how New Jersey defines marriage.”
Washington State enacting marriage equality on Monday becoming the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage.
The bill also includes another religious exemption stating that no religious society, institution or organization in this state serving a particular faith or denomination shall be compelled to provide space, services, advantages, goods or privileges related to the solemnization, celebration or promotion of marriage if such solemnization, celebration or promotion of marriage is in violation of the beliefs of such religious society, institution or organization.
The measure also states that no civil claim or cause of action against any religious society, institution or organization, or any employee thereof, shall arise out of any refusal to provide space, services, advantages, goods or privileges.
Under the bill, partners who have previously established a civil union may apply for a marriage license and would receive the license immediately, without the usual 72-hour waiting period between application for, and issuance of, the license. The usual fees for a marriage license would apply to same sex couples.
The bill would take effect on the 60th day following enactment.
The measure is also sponsored by Assembly members Connie Wagner (D-Bergen), Mila Jasey (D-Essex), John McKeon (D-Essex), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) Jason O’Donnell (D-Hudson), John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), and Timothy Eustace (D-Bergen).