UPDATE: The New Jersey State Senate Judiciary Committee approved the marriage equality bill by a vote of 7-6, with amendments. Two Democrats voted no, while one Republican, Bill Baroni, voted yes. A vote on final passage in the full Senate is expected to be held on Thursday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony and vote today on the marriage equality bill. Six votes on nominations are also expected to take place. I’d like to offer a special welcome to our out-of-state readers today.
For our in-state readers, tell your Senator to vote yes on marriage equality.
On the New Jersey State Senate Judiciary Committee sit eight Democrats and five Republicans. They are:
Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen): Chairman, opponent of marriage equality. Doesn’t have a law degree.
John Girgenti (D-Passaic): Vice Chairman
Nia Gill (D-Essex): Black Senator from Montclair, a diverse college town with a large gay population. Strong supporter of marriage equality
Ray Lesniak (D-Union): Sharp, articulate lawmaker who led the fight to abolish the death penalty in New Jersey. Strong supporter of marriage equality.
Nick Scutari (D-Union): a supporter of marriage equality.
Bob Smith (D-Middlesex): a supporter of marriage equality. Smith represents a liberal district in Central NJ which includes New Brunswick and Piscataway.
Brian Stack (D-Hudson): a supporter of marriage equality. Stack is also mayor of Union City, and an powerful Hudson County political boss.
Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen): the sponsor of the bill and a progressive stalwart in the legislature.
Bill Baroni (R-Mercer): very smart, well-liked Republican, and a supporter of marriage equality
Christopher Bateman (R-Somerset)
Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth): a wild card, and an up-and-comer in the Republican party.
Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen): probably the most outspoken opponent on the committee. A dentist by trade; has no law degree.
Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth): former R party chair, probably an opponent.
Update (10:09) The bill passes 7-6 and is released from committee. It will get a full vote on Thursday.
Update (10:05): Sarlo talks about how his faith teaches him that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a women. Sarlo votes no.
Update (10:02): Girgenti says supporting the measure would be violating his own conscience and the public conscience by voting yes. Girgenti votes no. Sarlo next
Update (10:00): Gill: “I vote for equality in marriage because I believe in the constitution.”
Update (9:51): Nia Gill talks about how religious freedoms are more than adequately protected in the bill. Gill says the bill is what the constitution requires. Gill then talks directly to Bateman: “I know you’re a skillful lawyer…[and] legislature. But there is nothing you can do to fix the Civil Union bill” short of enacting marriage equality.
Update (9:49): Lesniak to Bateman “When I heard you talk about Pearl Harbor, I thought we had you. You know, there were many gay men and women who were killed in those wars.” Lesniak votes yes. Nia Gill…
Update (9:48): Stack: “I proudly vote yes on this wonderful civil rights legislation.” Scutari also votes yes. Lesniak now…
Update (9:44) Loretta Weinberg is now speaking. She votes yes.
Update (9:39) First four Republicans vote no. Baroni returns to the theme of his opening remarks, that the debate is about balance. He concludes “Equality. Equal Treatment at law. That is not too much to ask….Tonight, I will be the first legislator in the history state of New Jersey to say the following. On the question of marriage equality, I vote yes.” The committeeroom erupts in applause, no doubt a standing ovation, which lasts for around half a minute.
Update (9:35) Vote on moving the bill
Bateman says Civil Unions won’t work, but isn’t willing to “change the definition of marriage.” No
Update (9:32) …I thought he was wrapping it up, but now he’s carrying on about how Governor Corzine is not morally entitled to sign important bills because he lost the election.
Update (9:30) Unlike witnesses, Senators are not limited in the time they can speak. Fortunately for everyone, Cardinale has the longest commute home of anyone on the panel. I don’t think he’ll go on too long. Cardinale is worried about the “unintended consequences” of the bill. He believes that the word “marriage” will encourage more people to choose to be gay, and that’s why he’s voting no.
Update (9:23) A motion to move the bill is made, but Cardinale wants to have a discussion before the vote. Cardinale says that calling Civil Unions “Domestic Partnerships” would have fixed the problems with the civil union bill. Was he listening to the seven hours of testimony?
Update (9:16) They return to Senator Baroni’s amendment to protect religious societies. Senator Weinberg accepts the amendments as friendly and moves the amendment. And she seconds it. Cardinale likes the amendment but wants to go further and give individuals license to discriminate against gay couples, but he gets nowhere. The amendment is approved unanimously.
Update (9:15) Roll call to end debate. Passes and debate has been concluded. No further testimony. Senator Sarlo thanks everyone for their patience and their respect of one another.
Update (9:13) Senator Sarlo says it appears there are still 25 opposed and 70 in favor waiting to testify. Sarlo asks if they feel they are compelled to testify and will have something new to offer the debate. He says we’ve heard the stories and understand the frustration and the pain. Senator Lesniak says he was going to offer Senator Cardinale the “good good.” He says they still have to debate the bill, vote on the bill and hopefully lobby legislators to vote on the bill Thursday. He seconds the chairman’s request. Senator Cardinale says it’s almost impossible for anyone to offer anything that hasn’t been said. He thinks the chair has been patient. He says he is quite sure the bill is going to be released and he’d go along with cutting off debate. I couldn’t make out what Senator Weinberg said.
Update (9:08) Deborah Jacobs from the NJ ACLU talks about the Lewis decisions. Talks about how civil unions are not giving equal rights. She then talks about student bullying and the restriction of free speech fears. She says the ACLU will represent Mr. Tamicki and stand up for for him. She says In this country we put our hand on the bible and swear to uphold the constitution, not put our hand on the constitution and swear to uphold the bible.
Update (9:05) Harriet Bernstein talks about why the word marriage is so important. It’s about the right to privacy and the protection of that right for all gay and lesbian families. Talks about how she has to out herself every time she fills out a form that asks married or single.
Update (8:58) A supporter from Mount Laurel tells the committee “all I want is a normal life.”
Update (8:54) Margaret Maloney speaks next. She has a hospital horror story…apparently someone changed “civil union partner” to “friend” on one of her documents. “The secondary status of civil union is confusing disruptive and serves no useful purpose, and at times it can interfere with running a business.”
Update (8:51): Eileen Dellavole who lives with her partner in Brick, who’s been receiving texts from her daugther all day.
Update (8:50): Heidi Ehman tells her family’s a heart-wrenching story.
Update (8:41): It seems like we are going through the list of people who were absent the first time they were called. Next up is Tom Wyka, the Democratic candidate in NJ-11 in 2006 and 2008, and his wife Betty. Wyka says that for the opponents of the bill, it’s about fear.
Update (8:35): The most important witness of the day, Blue Jersey’s own Jeff Gardner. Jeff refers to the recent letter signed by hundreds of Democratic activists. He tells the legislature that they can pass it now, but if they don’t, “We are never, ever going away. We’ll be back year after year, until we are treated as equal.” He concludes, “I am ready to become a first class citizen, with your help.” He is followed by another supporter from Hawthorne, Naomi Collier, who tells the committee there is no rational basis for discriminating in marriage.
Update (8:33): Nia Gill says that we can disagree without being disagreeable, and that she doesn’t think that anyone is here to lie. She apologizes on behalf of the rest of the Committee, and the room applauds. Sarlo doesn’t interrupt.
Update (8:26): Thomas Prol of NYU Law School reminds the Committee that not one witness has come before the panel to say the Civil Union law is working. The legalese is a refreshing break from the bombastic, angry bigotry of the last half hour. Cardinale asks him if he can say that the membership of the Civil Union Review Commission were unbiased, he says yes. Cardinale all but calls him a liar.
Update (8:25): Sarlo must tell a melodramatic shouter from Hamilton twice to wrap it up. He explains the failure of Civil unions in the area of health benefits.
Update (8:20): The next speaker seems to think the world will end if the lege changes the legal definition of a word. He is followed by one John DeMarco, who—I kid you not—brought a bunch of screws and bolts to the committee hearing to show why he is opposed to marriage equality.
Update (8:18): The rabbi tells the committee to “think what’s in store for the innocent, lonely child” adopted by a two married men.
Update (8:15): To the Orthodox Jewish rabbi says the bill “spiritually decimates Jews, Christians, Baha’is and Muslims”: it is not discrimination when someone passes a law that you do not agree with.
Update (8:14): To the lady who keeps talking about the “homosexual community”: it is not discrimination when someone passes a law that you do not agree with.
Update (8:11): An evangelical free church Pastor from Sparta speaks against marriage equality. He wields bible verses.
Update (8:06): Baroni asks him if he supports the civil union law. The witness says that civil unions would be okay with him if any two could enter into a civil unions law. Baroni asks him if he would support any same-sex relationship recognition, and he says he would have to remain neutral. Baroni asks if his organization has a double standard between Washington (where they opposed “anything but marriage” domestic partnership law) and New Jersey. The witness replies that he doesn’t. Baroni asks him if he were given absolute powerful, if he would repeal civil unions & domestic partnerships; he says no, but he would let any two people enter into such an relationship.
Update (8:03): Ahh, we have a natural lawyer in the building! The witness argues that sexual union is the key to marriage, and that’s impossible without the complementary reproductive systems of male and female.
Update (7:59): Sounds like a bunch of opponents are next.
Update (7:54): Julie and Maddy Petro-Cohen (sp?) introduce themselves, and hand the mic to their daughter Jessie. “To me, a family is a group of people who love each other and are willing to do anything for one another,” she tells the committee. “The only difference between our family and your family is that we have to ask for rights, while you don’t.” Sarlo cuts off applause, and jokes that the youngster should see Senator Cardinale if she needs a note for school.
Update (7:49): New Jersey Family First’s policy director brought the committee an informational packet…with a bullying brochure for John Otto! He reads an anti-gay editorial from a black woman. Nia Gill will have questions…or not. Sarlo tells Ray Lesniak to stop interrupting.
Update (7:47): Len Deo insists that civil unions are good enough because only eight people have complained about civil unions.
Update (7:41): Loretta Yin from the 14th district coalition for traditional marriage and the people’s voice offers her insights: “We are not having sex right now.” Her sidekick insists that being gay is a choice. He says that Jesus defined marriage for the society, and that anyone who has a divorce commits adultery. Senator Lesniak wonders aloud who is going to post a bill banning divorce. The witness then insists that government is discriminating against him by enacting a policy he disagrees with. Len Deo is next.
Update (7:40): The next idiot says that marriage equality violates the right to freedom of religion merely by existing legally. If that’s the case, then what does abortion do?
Update (7:37): The next one up calls herself a minuteman, and says she’ll make it short and sweet. She wants people to vote on other people’s rights.
Update (7:31): Teabagger Carol Adams claims to speak for 5,000,000 voters in New Jersey, and tells gay people to fill out power of attorney documents, laminate it, and carry it around with them. Ray Lesniak asks him what document John Otto, gay high schooler who testified earlier today, should carry around. Carol Adams says she offers him her prayers, and that maybe he can list his mother on a power of attorney document in the future. Ridiculous.
Update (7:28): The next lady, who fancies herself a doctor, drivels on for five minutes about the evils of the gay lifestyle and how gay people are promiscuous. By her logic, veterans are bad people because they have a high rate of homelessness and drug abuse, and tend to have lower lifespans. Sarlo tells her to wrap it up. She goes on for another minute and a half, and when she gets to mention “Almighty God,” he tells her to wrap it up again. Then she babbles about Thomas Jefferson for a minute, and he tells her to wrap it up again. She finally wraps it up.
Update (7:19): The clergy have finished. The next panel includes a group of opponents from right-wing organizations.
Update (7:12): Sarlo isn’t keeping much control over the meeting; people have been going over time pretty much all day. With some witnesses, that’s inevitable, but many could have been cut shorter.
Update (6:58): Alison Miller of the Morristown Unitarian fellowship tells the clerical opponents of marriage equality that they’ve never been forced by the state of New Jersey to sign a document they don’t believe in. Whenver she signs a civil union certificate she’s forced to relegate a gay couple to second class status.
Update (6:51): Many members of the clergy make the point that New Jersey’s current law inhibits their religious freedom to marry same sex couples. One civil union partner of a pastor says after being domesticated by the state of New Jersey and civilized by the state of New Jersey, he’s ready to be married by the state of New Jersey.
Update (6:38): Sarlo wants the rest of the pro-equality clergy to testify as a panel, but from his voice it seems there are more than he expected. A United Methodist minister, married for 52 years. A pastor at a predominantly black church in Newark. A lesbian from a Jewish Synagogue in Bloomfield. A hospital chaplain who’s heard all the horror stories. A reverend who served on the Civil Union Review Commission. A Unitarian Universalist minister from Monmouth. An ELCA pastor. Another UU minister from Titusville. Another ELCA pastor, and his partner of 40 years. A clergy member from Drew Theological Seminary. A leader from a Quaker meeting in Camden County who wants to marry her partner. The leader of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship. A retired UU minister with a lesbian daughter. The director of an Episcopal Church in Maplewood. An openly gay Quaker who has been with his parter for over a quarter century. Another ELCA minister. A rabbi from Montclair. A statewide UU leader. Two more Quakers. etc.
Update (6:34): UCLA Law Professor Brad Sears testifies about the possible impact of marriage equality on the state’s economy. No questions. It’s hard to argue with money these days in this state.
Update (6:28): The Nicholson-McFadden family from Aberdeen, New Jersey, who were among the plaintiffs in the marriage equality bill, speak next. One of the partners says that even the children understand that civil unions are a second class status. Indeed, the children understand it better than the adults. One of the youngsters, ten-year old Casey, speaks about the difficulty of explaining civil unions to their classmates: “They look at us like we’re from Mars.”
Update (6:24): Hudak, of the American Family Therapy Academy, says that John’s experience is just the tip of the iceberg. Inequality “perpetuates stigma and contributes to stress.” She continues,
“If you vote no on the bill, you will be ignoring the voices of the children and families you hear today, as well as ignoring the voice of [laundry list of medical organizations].”
Update (6:14): Next up: Kim Otto and her son John Otto and Dr. Jacqueline Hudak. John Otto tells the committee about being subjected to homophobic abuse in high school, which nearly drove him to commit suicide. His testimony illustrates the harm that legal inequality can do to young gay men. His mother, a practicing Catholic says she wants her son to be able to enjoy marriage just as she has been able to. One legislator, I think Scutari, tells John he’s a role model. Baroni tells him he’s a role model to a whole lot of people, and most of those in attendance applaud. Cardinale, in so many words, tells John to sue the people who bullied him. Asshole.
Update (6:06): Sarlo goes through several names on the list, but nobody seems to be here. Finally, Katherine Dixon, Vice President of the NJ chapter of National Association of Social Workers, and Jim White of Knights of Columbus. She’s for, he’s against. Dixon emphasizes the importance of the law on the children she and her colleagues must deal with every day. White wants the legislature to “protect the sacred institution of marriage.” He says the changing the legal definition of marriage is like trying to turn an apple into an orange. Then he complains that Canadian churches have been subjected to hate crime laws; of course, he forgets to mention that the first amendment doesn’t apply to Canada. He runs over time and Sarlo has to interrupt him repeatedly to get him to stop.
Update (6:02): Bryan invites anyone who opposes marriage equality to come to her house for dinner, and wish her two oldest sons a long an happy marriage while telling her youngest son that he can’t get marry because he’s gay. Alicia Heath-Toby testifies next.
Update (5:58): New Thread! Toby-Heaths and Lucille Bryan are testifying.