Gay Marriage Fight Comes to New Jersey – Senate Vote on Thursday – UPDATE: Vote Postponed
Legislators in New Jersey have cleared the way for a gay marriage vote in the Senate as soon as Thursday, December 10, following a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that passed the bill by a vote of 7-6 on Monday.
Following the defeat of a gay marriage bill in New York last week, this debate is likely to draw much attention from gay marriage advocates and opposition alike, as both sides wait to see whether New Jersey can become the next state to legalize gay marriage.
States that currently have legalized gay marriages are Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Iowa, with New Hampshire’s gay marriage law to come into effect on January 1, 2010. This, of course, is not counting California, where gay marriages were briefly legal in 2008.
New Jersey legislators are on a deadline, though. While current New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine (D), who signed a civil partnership law in 2006, has said he would also sign the gay marraige bill into law if it reached his desk, he leaves office in January. Republican Governor-elect Chris Christie, who takes up office on Jan. 19, has said he will veto the bill. So, the race is on.
The bill will require 21 votes from the New Jersey Senate to be advanced. The Senate is controlled by the Democrats by a majority of 23-17, but, as the stinging defeat in New York showed, a Democrat majority does not guarantee success.
It is thought that anywhere between two and seven Democrats may vote against the bill. There’s a slim hope of aid from the other side of the floor with Republican Senator Bill Baroni (R-Mercer) having voted to pass the legislation from committee on Monday night. As is evident, the odds of success do not stack up well.
However, senators will not be made to vote down party lines. This allowance has become customary with gay marriage votes which are seen as “matters of conscience”. For this reason, it could be that support may be drawn for the bill from other Republican senators, but this is, perhaps, an optimistic view.
The New Jersey General Assembly has a greater Democrat majority, and it is predicted that a comfortable margin would vote to approve gay marriage should the bill advance, though again, nothing is certain.
It should also be noted that the gay marriage bill did not pass unamended from the Judiciary Committee. Although the bill already contained exemptions for religious institutions to support their right to deny a gay couple a marriage ceremony, this exemption was made more clear by an amendement proposed by Sen. Bill Baroni.
Much work continues to be done behind the scenes as legislators who support gay marriage, as well as Gov. Corzine himself, try to rally support for the bill from Democrats who are as yet undecided. Although I’m not sure how much political weight this carries, Bruce Springsteen, a native of New Jersey, has also expressed his support of the bill.
The major sticking point for opponents seems to be that the New Jersey civil union law grants all the rights that a state can provide a gay couple, except, that is, for the term “marriage” itself.
Other than the “separate but (not) equal” argument, the other key reason to signing this bill goes that, once the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed, the way will be cleared for married gay couples in New Jersey – and any state that allows gay marriage – to claim the full federal benefits that are currently only afforded to heterosexual marriages, because New Jersey’s definition of what it means to have a “spouse” and to be “married” will already include gay couples who have obtained a marriage license.
Currently, the Defense of Marriage Act means that gay couples who are married in their individual states are denied 1138 federal benefits because the federal government does not recognize their unions. President Obama has said that he supports a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
If the bill clears the New Jersey Senate on Thursday it will be debated in the General Assembly early next year.
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UPDATE 1: Senators supporting gay marriage in New Jersey have chosen to postpone the vote. The Senate vote is now likely to be held on January 7, or possibly January 11. This is so that the New Jersey General Assembly can take up the legislation, and possibly so that more support can be won before the Senate vote. I’ll bring you the General Assembly vote schedule when it comes in.