New Jersey Democratic leaders, in a move that puts them in direct opposition to the state’s Republican Governor Chris Christie, have decided to prioritize a marriage equality bill when the new legislative session starts on Wednesday.
Introducing the bill in Trenton on Monday, lawmakers said that marriage equality is about basic civil rights.
Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, who introduced the bill to the Assembly, drew comparisons with interracial marriage, while Senator Steve Sweeney, introducing the bill for the Senate, said that voting against a previous marriage equality bill was the biggest mistake of his career.
At a press conference attended by nearly a dozen top Democrats in the Senate and Assembly, Sweeney said the marriage equality bill will go to key legislative committees “immediately.’’ Further, he said he wants a floor vote in the Senate before the budget break, which is in March.
He said he expects there will be enough votes in both houses to pass the measure (A1 and S1) but noted the battle will come when the bill reaches Christie’s desk for enactment.
“It’s gonna be a fight. We expect it to be a fight,’’ Sweeney said. “The governor’s a decent person and I think we can work on educating him to the fact of what it means.’’
As to the timing of the bill, reports suggest that lawmakers plan on the legislation reaching the governor’s desk perhaps as soon as next month.
Four people with direct knowledge of the draft bill told The Associated Press that Democrats’ priority for the new legislative session is to move the bill quickly through both houses of the Legislature and forward it to the governor, perhaps as early as next month.
Gov. Chris Christie has said previously that he doesn’t support gay marriage.
The people, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the bill is still being drafted, said denying gay couples the ability to marry violates their civil rights. They say they hope that’s how the governor will see it, too.
Previous attempts to pass a marriage equality bill failed, with last year’s effort being blocked in the Senate by a 20-14 vote. Even with all Democrats supporting the bill, Gov. Christie has been very vocal about not supporting same-sex marriage, often repeating his stance while also saying that he is open to expanding the state’s civil unions law.
“I believe marriage is an institution between one man and one woman. I think it’s special and unique in society, and I think we can have civil unions that can help to give the same type of legal rights to same-sex couples that marriage gives them. But I just think marriage has as a special connotation. And I couldn’t see myself changing my mind on that.”
Democrats have reportedly assessed what it would take to get enough Republican lawmakers on-side in order to override a veto. While that looks somewhat unlikely, LGBT rights groups remain optimistic about the bill’s chances.
“Freedom to Marry is proud to partner with Garden State Equality and New Jersey’s tremendous legislative leaders, Senate President Sweeney and House Speaker Oliver, as we work together to make New Jersey the next state to end the exclusion of gay couples from marriage. What New Jersey’s legislative leaders are telling us clearly today is that the Garden State values its gay and lesbian citizens fully, and does not accept treating same-sex couples and their families as second class citizens, as it presently does with civil unions. Marriage matters for same-sex couples and their families, both because it says we’re a family through thick and thin in a way that nothing else does, and because it provides a critical safety-net of protections that civil unions do not.”
The New Jersey Legislature passed a bill providing for civil unions and recognizing other states’ civil unions in 2006 following a court ruling that the state’s domestic partnership law failed to offer adequate benefits. That same charge has been made against the civil unions law, an opinion that has found support with the New Jersey State Bar Association and the Civil Union Review Commission created by the Civil Union Act who have both returned reports that civil unions are failing to make the grade.
Lambda Legal is currently representing several NJ couples in court, claiming that the state’s civil union law violates both the New Jersey Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution on the grounds that the law relegates same-sex couples to an inferior status and therein causes real harms.