BY TOM HESTER SR.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) announced today that the Democratic-controlled Legislature will not consider moving legislation that would allow voters to decide through a ballot referendum is same-sex marriage should be legalized in New Jersey.
As the climax to a lengthy public hearing, the Democratic-controlled Assembly Judiciary Committee late Thursday afternoon voted 5 to 2 along party lines in favor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
The senator said the full Senate will vote on Feb. 13.
"It's time for everyone, from the governor to the chattering observers, to stop talking about a marriage equality referendum in terms of 'if,'” Sweeney said “There will be no referendum on marriage equality in New Jersey, period."
Christie has vowed to veto the legislation when it reaches his desk. The governor argues that voters should decide the issue on the November ballot.
"Someone once said that 'the rule for effective government is simple: When you see a problem, you fix it,”' Sweeney said. “Unfortunately, the governor is failing to live up to his own words. He and some of his colleagues could stand to learn from Washington State, where yesterday the Senate passed marriage equality. They did it with the votes of four Republican Senators who stood up for justice and equality, rather than simply shrug off their responsibility as legislators to act.
"Real leaders take action,” the senator added. “When the Senate votes on this issue on February 13, it will be a very simple choice: you either support marriage equality, or you don't. There is no third option.”
Sweeney spoke of the Democrats’ position as the Democratic-controlled Assembly Judiciary Committee holds a lengthy hearing on the issue. The hearing is part of the Democrats’ effort to quickly approve the bill (A-1/S-1), which it has made the top priority for the new session.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), the lead lower house sponsor of the legislation, told the committee, “The creation of civil unions has produced a separate-but-equal system, and as we know from our history classes, separate-but-equal is as unconstitutional as it is inherently unequal. Why is it that a same-sex couple in another state such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Massachusetts or New York, can be duly married, yet when they cross the border into New Jersey they become civil unionized? A marriage law in New Jersey would make a significant difference in providing equality and dignity to same-sex couples and their children.”
The bill, entitled the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act, would eliminate the state’s civil union law that have been in place since 2007 and instead define marriage as the legally recognized union of two consenting people in a committed relationship.
The legislation also expressly 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.