Presently, six states and the District of Columbia, together comprising 35 million Americans, allow same-sex couples to marry.
The bill includes a religious exemption stating that no member of the clergy of any religion authorized to solemnize marriage and no religious society, institution or organization in this state shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“As expected, this legislation has inspired passionate debate,” Gusciora said. “But it’s important to keep in mind that this bill is also about religious freedom – the right for religious institutions to exercise their own beliefs and the right for individuals to not have anyone else’s religious beliefs imposed on them. In creating true marriage equality, ultimately this law affirms two basic principles of our constitution – the right to equal protection under the law and to exercise religious freedom.”
The measure also includes a 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.
Also, the bill 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 measure would take effect on the 60th day following enactment.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) told the committee, “All the evidence has shown us that New Jersey’s civil union law falls far short in providing true equality. Civil unions send a message to the public that same-sex couples and their families are not equal to married couples in the eyes of the law.
"It sends a message that same-sex couples are not good enough to warrant equality,” Oliver said. “This is the same message we heard from Jim Crow segregation laws. Separate treatment was wrong then. Separate treatment is wrong now. That’s why this bill is so important, and that’s why those of us elected to protect civil rights must stand up and do the right thing and support it.”