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.
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 (5:52): Another ecclesiastical panel is convened, and Sarlo announces they will be strictly held to the two minute rule. Mark Beckwith of the Episcopal Archdiocese of Newark supports marriage equality. Beckwith reminds the audience that men used to own the women to which they were married. His counterpart in the diocese of New Jersey (south & central jersey) also declares his support for the bill.
Update (5:49): Weinberg: “Has Judaism survived the three years of the civil union law?” The rabbi tells her she doesn’t understand the weight of her decision.
Update (5:45): Loretta Weinberg asks him if there is slavery in the Torah. After he responds, she says, “I’ve argued with lawyers without being a lawyer, I’m going to argue with a Rabbi without being a Rabbi.” Weinberg: “I respect your right to do what you want in your synagogues, and that’s why I joined the synagogue to which I belong.”
Update (5:40): A rabbi from Jackson Township, who would do well to expand his repertoire of humor beyond self-deprecating Jewish jokes, believes that love between gay people is worth less than love between love between a married couple. He foolishly thinks his ability to speak against gay people in his church will be restricted by hate crime laws. Sarlo interrupts him, saying that the amednment will protect your synagogue.
Update (5:33): Three more witnesses. One of them, a Josh P., is Chariman of an Orthodox Jewish organization. He belts out his testimony in a loud monotone which reminds me of weaker opponents in my high school debate days. A senator tells him that the Baroni amendment will address some of his concerns about religious organizations being forced to recognize marriages. Someone from the Yeshiva of Lakewood offers his view of the Torah, saying that gays act against nature and will damage the creation.
Update (5:30): Loretta Weinberg emphasizes that this process has not been rushed, as Lewis v. Harris was handed down three years ago. Lesniak adds that Vermont had ten years and they finally determined civil unions still didn’t work.
Update (5:25): Cardinale and Gill have an exchange that lasts several minutes. Cardinale’s mic is still turned off.
Update (5:20): Senators Bateman and Gill question Edish next. Gill compares Cardinale’s advocacy for a loophole-free civil union law to the “separate but equal” of Jim Crow. Gill says we don’t need to wait any longer to see that rights are being denied. Cardinale is saying something, but his mic is turned off.
Update (5:15): Cardinale asks if everyone from the state of New Jersey was there when civil unions were passed, and gives a dissertation on the meaning of the word “all” that would put Bill Clinton to shame. Then he shifts topics and asks if the Supreme Court would find polygamy legal. Sarlo puts an end to a rancorous round of questioning.
Update (5:10): As Cardinale begins his questions, an male voice can be overheard saying “here we go”. Cardinale gets cranky with the Edish, telling him not to repeat his testimony. Edish at one point reminds him that he’s the lawyer and Cardinale’s the dentist. Cardinale asks if there’s any way to satisfy Lewis v Harris without marriage equality, and he says in so many words that because the failure of civil unions, there isn’t. Cardinale’s line of question brings him to compare discriminating against a partner in a civil union couple to murder. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction? Yeah right.
Update (5:05): Nia Gill singles out pensions and healthcare as the two areas where civil unions have been most inadequate. “[In these areas] it has been separate, and very very unequal.”
Update (5:02): Sarlo asks the NJSBA President whether the state can come up with a piece of legislation that can close all the loopholes without using the word marriage. He says, no, there isn’t. Sarlo thanks the state bar association, of which he is not a member.
Update (4:56): I missed the first part of this panel, but Weissman quoted former Deborah Poritz, who along with two other State Supreme Court justices dissented in Lewis v. Harris, on the grounds that Civil Unions were inadequate. The family lawyer emphasizes that status matters.
Update (4:49): A Legal panel. The NJSBA Chair Alan Edish, Thomas Snyder, and two Labor Lawyers from Weissman and Mintz, who represent CWA.
Update (4:46): Girgenti asks what changing the word will gain them. One of the witnesses explains that married same-sex couples in Massachusetts are not denied benefits under ERISA, but civil union partners in New Jersey are. Senator Lesniak adds that we can’t wait for the feds to change the law.
Update (4:37): Next up is Paul Beckman who has two hospital horror stories (see the Garden State Equality ads on this page). The other members of the panel is a lesbian couple (Marsha and Louise) who are parties to a civil union. She tells of her job search, in which she had to come out to every prospective employer in interviews because she needed to know if they provided benefits for civil union partners. One of them may soon have to look for a new job, as her current employer will fall under the ERISA law, which screws over civil union couples in New Jersey (but not married same-sex couples in Massachusetts).
Update (4:35): Tomicki whines that children are going to be taught in school that not everybody is heterosexual. After driveling on for six minutes, he finally shuts up.
Update (4:27): Former state senator Dick LaRossa shows off his mastery of civics when he says that the legislature is trying make something legal that has been heretofore illegal. No kidding. He says that changing definition of marriage could lead to a slippery slope, and that next, the legislature could change the definition of an urban center to reduce funding to cities. No kidding. Then he suggests that the governor can use his line item veto pen to write in whatever language he wants, which is blatantly false. Shameful. John Tomicki, head of a New Jersey Family Policy Council or something like that, gets snotty with the presiding Senator when his two minutes are up. He wants another two minutes, and gets it. He then says Lewis v. Harris will lead to polygamy.
Update (4:25): Baroni asks her about the response to her vote from Republicans in Vermont. Snelling says that it has been positive. Snelling is probably the best witness we’ve had. Her testimony is a big step toward winning over Jen Beck.
Update (4:21): Sarlo asks Snelling how she thinks Vermont would vote on marriage equality. She says it’s not an appropriate question, because people shouldn’t vote on other people’s civil rights. Cardinale asks, “Are you afraid of the people?” and then goes on for 40 seconds about how he’s never seen someone from Vermont testify. Snelling responds: “Legislators are elected by the people to make important decisions on their behalf.” Vermont, can we borrow this Senator?
Update (4:16): Next Up: Vermont State Senator Diane Snelling, the only Republican to represent liberal Chittenden County (Burlington area). She gives us an autobiography. Snelling is a long-time advocate of marriage equality. Snelling: “Some decisions must be made by courageous legislative leaders” and not left to those who want to oppress a minority. “None of my colleagues in the senate regrets their vote.”
Update (4:07): Cardinale asks Chen whether all stable relationships should be afforded the title marriage. Chen says no. Cardinale, playing devils advocate, asks why should marriage be limited to only two people. Chen hesitates to concede that the legislature can allow polygamy. Nia Gill and Paul Sarlo then question him. Chen tells sarlo yes, the word marriage is particularly important. In the end he hasn’t been the most convincing of the witnesses.
Update (4:03): Chen, who has been one of the best appointments in Corzine’s administration, argues that the social stability that families create is the most powerful argument for civil government regulating in this area at all.
Update (4:01): Sarlo cuts time to 2 minutes per speaker. There are 150 people in favor who wanted to testify, and not all of them will be able to. One who will is New Jersey Public Advocate Ron Chen, who begins his testimony by noting this may be his last appearance before the legislature in that capacity.
Update (3:58): Weinberg asks the bishops what their notion of “natural law” means for the Rabbi who wants to marry a same-sex couple.
Update (3:54): Lesniak notes that Catholic Church as recently as 1995 called civil recognition of gay and lesbian relationships “gravely unjust”, and points out that they opposed the civil union law.
Update (3:51): Gill: “is it the label of marriage that you object to a same-sex couple having, or are there substantive rights and priviliges that are reserved for married couples that should not be conferred on same-sex couples.” Brannigan evades the question and says that the legislature doesn’t have the right to redefine marriage.
Update (3:47): Brannigan says the Catholic bishops support the Civil Union Act. If I’m not mistaken, they opposed it when it was under consideration, offering a domestic partnership-type bill that basically equated committed, romantic same-sex relationships to close friendships. Nia Gill asks him several questions.
Update (3:46): Brannigan wraps up, and Sarlo asks if the Catholic church supports amending the civil union law to close up what he calls “loopholes” in the law.
Update (3:40): Now for some opponents: Pat Brannigan and Lawrence Gallagher of the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey. They begin by saying that the Catholic Church is clear that “persons with homosexual tendencies” must be treated with dignity and respect. That’s BS.
Update (3:36): Pastino’s partner, Naomi Cohen, was refused access to Pastino by a doctor at a hospital she went to in an emergency. Naomi had to explain the civil union law to the doctor, who then insisted that she provide documentation.
Update (3:33): Bond steps down after he and Nia Gill give the audience a quick history lesson. The second panel is Gina Pastino, civil union partner of Naomi Cohen, and her rabbi, whose name I missed. Pastino tells a horror story about a hospital visit.
Update (3:26): Bond concludes. Jen Beck asks why the NAACP has not taken a position; Bond replies, “It hasn’t come up.” Cardinale comes up with a syllogism so ridiculous it would make Monty Python proud and tries to pretend it was in Bond’s speech, but Bond handles Cardinale with ease. Weinberg and Lesniak thank Bond; Nia Gill then says Bond “is an icon,” and says that short of asking him for an autograph she’ll ask a couple of questions. Her first question asks him to talk about Bayard Rustin, who organized the March on Washington.
Update (3:22): Bond speaks about Loving v. Virginia, and Mildred Loving’s support for marriage equality. He then adds that civil rights should never be put up for a vote. He then speaks about the comparison between the black civil rights movement and the gay rights movement.
Update (3:16): Sarlo moves on to the panels. One member of the first panel isn’t in the room, so he calls on the second “panel”: NAACP Chairman Julian Bond. Bond quotes Coretta Scott King. Bond insists that marriage equality is about just that—equality, and that civil unions are no substitute.
Update (3:13): Cardinale asks Weinberg whether civil unions will be converted to marriages, even if the parties do nothing. Weinberg says that they didn’t want to create two different classes of people in the bill. Cardinale suggests that the people will be married without consent.
Update (3:07): Gusciora points out that we live in a Republic, and not a Democracy.
Update (3:04): Reed Gusciora speaks of his parents’ marriage, which he says survived Britney’s 72 hour marriage, and the six combined marriages of Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich.
Update (3:01): Sarlo deftly interrupts the exchange between Gill and Baroni to move the debate along, and yields to Assemblyman Reed Gusciora.
Update (2:58): Baroni, who is an accomplished lawyer, speaks about the legal implications of the bill. He then offers an amendment expanding religious protections in the bill. Senator Weinberg accepts the amendments as friendly. Gill asks whether a church affiliated group would be able to deny the use of a facility to same-sex couples if that group received state or federal funding, and Baroni says they probably would be. Gill notes that by expanding protections to affiliated organizations “which may be more amorphus and may control more social settings and institutions that may be apart from the church.” Baroni replies that, yes, they would be able to deny use of their facility to same-sex couples.
Update (2:52): Baroni offering his thanks to Sarlo for treating him with fairness, decency and professionalism. No word on whether he was crossing his fingers under the table. Baroni says this issue comes down to the question of how we balance rights.
Update (2:50): Cardinale suggests that new Jerseyans are “second-class citizens” because we don’t have initiative and referendum. One wonders how he ever passed a high school civics course. He plans to offer an amendment later today to put marriage equality up for a vote.
Update (2:47): Senator Cardinale starts by complaining about the timing of the bill. For once, it seems like we agree—I think it’s three years to late. Cardinale suggests that Corzine is lamer than a lame duck, and that we’re “turning a deaf ear to the electorate,” as if Corzine lost because he supported marriage equality. We’ll see if he’s singing the same song come budget season.
Update (2:43): Weinberg closes by referring to her husband again. Senator Lesniak is now speaking. Again paraphrasing: “Today I have an opportunity to be compassionate, understanding and loving by my vote for marriage equality. But today is not about me. It is about the gay couples who will tell of heart-wrenching experiences with the civil unions which fails to secure for them the rights of marriage in import and application.”
Update (2:42): Weinberg appeals to undecided members to be considered how history will remember them. Paraphrasing: “We don’t remember the William Yanceys and Strom Thurmonds. We remember the Jeannette Rankins and Julian Bonds.”
Update (2:40): Weinberg declares that civil unions have not worked. She then reads from a letter given to her by Congressman John Lewis (D-GA): “This legislature has the opportunity today to be a headlight and not a taillight…You have the opportunity to correct humanity’s inhumanity toward each other…You have the opportunity to stand on the right side of history, the right side of justice and the right side of peace.”
Update (2:38): Weinberg: “This committee cannot prefer the definition of marriage preferred by some faiths over the definition of marriage preferred by others.”
Update (2:33): Senator Weinberg is choked up when speaking about her late husband of 39 years, adding that the debate is about “the right to live with the person you love in full peace and security.”
Update (2:32): Sarlo yields to Weinberg who thanks him for “living up to your commitment to post this bill today.” Weinberg lightens the atmosphere by joking that the Judiciary Committee might be harder to serve on than the Budget Committee.
Update (2:30): Sarlo tells everyone in the committe room to behave themselves and refrain from any outbursts. Ha!
Update (2:29): …And we’re back.
Update (2:21): The committee is taking a recess for a couple minutes.
Update (2:18): A1771 goes to a vote and passes, with Kyrillos, Cardinale and Beck vote no.
Update (2:13): Senator Cardinale objects to A1771, which allows for expungment of records for drug-related expenses, because he wants to show us all how tough he is on crimes. The bill is supported by both law enforcement and the ACLU. Senator Lesniak responds that the bill would limit recidivism by making it easier for people who’ve served their time to get a job. Senator Beck asks about what kind of drugs fall under the bill, and Lesniak reiterates his last point. The marriage equality bill will be next.
Update (2:07): A2143 & S2294, which allows restraining orders for stalkers to include electronic communication, passes unanimously with amendment.
Update (2:03): The first bill, S1074, is held up for want of a fiscal statement, while A807 & S1471 pass unanimously.
Update (2:00): Sarlo moves on to bills now, even though one nominee on the calendar, namely, Nicholas Fargo, still hasn’t been considered…because his nomination has been held by Paul Sarlo, who probably couldn’t find enough votes for his pension-padding pal.
Update (1:58): First three nominations proceed without controversy. Senator Cardinale declares his opposition to the renomination of Elizabeth Garcia to the NJIT board of trustees, over litigation between NJIT and its alumni association. Senator Beck says she’s voting no for the same reason. Senators Sarlo, Lesniak and Scutari defend the nominee, who is not present at the hearing. Senator Cardinale complains that the lawsuit has cost the state a “bloody fortune,” but Senator Weinberg notes that insurance companies are paying most of the legal bills. Vote on the nominee is 8-5 in favor, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans against.
Update (1:38): The marriage equality bill will be considered last and nominations first, as expected.
Update (1:34): The stream is finally up.
Update (1:17): The stream is still listed as “pending”.
(Note: I flipped the updates, so the most recent ones are at the top)