BY TOM HESTER SR.
The state Senate Monday afternoon voted 24 to 16 in favor of legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey.
The vote on the Democratic-sponsored bill was along party lines and sets the measure up to be voted on by the Democratic-controlled Assembly on Thursday.
Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to veto the legislation (S-1/A-1) when it reaches his desk. Instead, the governor wants the issue of legalizing gay marriage to be decided through a referendum on the November ballot. In response, Democratic legislative leaders maintain civil rights should not be decided by popular vote and have declared they will not send him legislation creating a referendum.
Senators Ronald Rice (D-Essex) and Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) joined Republicans in opposing the measure, and Senators Jennifer Beck (R-monmouth) and Diane Allen (R-Burlington) were the only Republicans to support the measure.
In urging support for the bill, Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), a prime sponsor, said, “Today, we have an opportunity to be again on the right side of history and take our rightful place in being a leader among the fifty states. “We can join New York, Vermont, Washington, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa by approving marriage equality.
“The sanctity of marriage has not been endangered by marriage equality in those seven states,” the senator said. “In fact, it's been enhanced by allowing more loving couples to get married.
“Senators, where do you want New Jersey to be on the evolution of civil rights in the United States of America?,” Lesniak asked. “Where do you want to be on the evolution of civil rights in the United States of America. Are you going to soar like an eagle, or follow like a sheep?
“I choose to soar like an eagle.”
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the bill’s other prime sponsor, said the state‘s civil union law is not effective and that same-sex couples should have the right to marry.
“The word marriage is society’s universal, civil and legal acknowledgement of a loving relationship – the same legal and civil recognition that my late husband Irwin and I enjoyed throughout our almost 40-year marriage,” Weinberg said. “Next week will be the 13th anniversary of his passing, and when I go to my synagogue to say my prayers during that service, I know that the bill we are considering today is for my rabbi and fellow congregants’ right to practice our religion as he and they see fit.
“We’ve heard, from our constituents, our neighbors and our friends about how the law treats same-sex couples differently than it does opposite-sex couples,” the senator said. “We’ve listened to hours upon hours of heart-wrenching testimony, in both Houses of the Legislature, about how the civil union law does not work, and ends up marginalizing same-sex partners and their families when the law’s protections are needed most.
“Today, with the passage of this bill, we will be taking a step in the right direction to correct this inequality,” Weinberg said. “It’s time for New Jersey to get on the right side of history and enact true marriage equality for every one of its residents. I recognize that the bill has its detractors – some in this very room and some right down the hallway – who would fight the inevitable march of progress on marriage equality for personal or maybe even political reasons."
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) asked senators who support marriage equality not cave to political pressure, but to "do the right thing."
“Our votes today may be cast as ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but in history they will be forever recorded as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’,” the senator said. “There is no third option.”
Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R- Morris) reminded lawmakers the legislation "has zero chance of becoming law.
"The bill's sponsors have told us that public opinion justifies the Senate passing a bill that will not become law," the senator said. "If poll data is now driving the Senate's agenda, Senator Bateman's constitutional amendment placing same sex marriage before the voters should be scheduled for a vote, as it enjoys majority public support.
"By that standard, we should also eliminate the grandfather clause in the dual office holding ban, change the current school funding formula to give the same amount per student to each school district, and pass pay to play reform that applies to every interest group including public employee unions," Pennachio said. "The latest public polling indicates that the public's top priorities are jobs and property taxes. I realize this is a sensitive issue for many people. However, making this the number one issue by designating the bill "S-1" simply does not reflect the overall will of the vast majority of New Jersey citizens."
Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) spoke in opposition to the legislation, calling for “the centuries-old tradition of marriage between a man and woman to be preserved.
"Throughout human history, marriage has been a term used to describe a specific human relationship – the union of humans of different genders," Cardinale said. "It is amazing that this extremely controversial bill is the top priority of our legislative leadership, while our taxes are the highest in the country and unemployment ravages."
Sen. Richard J. Codey (D-Essex) said, “The world isn't going to end because of this vote. All that will happen is that more people will be able to marry those they love. That's it Your street, your neighborhood, your place of worship, your schools, your town...nothing will be different come tomorrow. Today was a great first step in the effort to achieve marriage equality in New Jersey. When it comes down to it, it's really just a matter of common sense and decency.”
As the Senate debated, news broke that the Washington state Legislature and governor had approved same-sex marriage. The state is the seventh to recognize gay marriage.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), the prime sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill in the lawer house, said, "I want to commend Washington state legislators and Governor Gregoire for having the fortitude to stand up and do what’s right. In a true display of courage and conscience, they put aside political differences to break down the biggest barrier to inequality for same-sex couples.
“This is what true leadership looks like and I applaud everyone who displayed the courage to stand up against injustice," the Assemblyman said. "It’s gratifying to see this same display of courage play out in the corridors of Trenton today as well. I look forward to the General Assembly following suit on Thursday and hope Governor Christie will find it in him to heed this call of conscience.