I arrived early at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Marriage Equality in order to get a good spot for my video camera. The hearings were scheduled for 11 AM. By 9:15, when I arrived, the line was all the way back to the lobby and more people were coming. I was the first reporter there, and was able to secure a prime spot adjacent to the witness table, a power outlet, and access to the audio feed. What more could a blogger and amateur videographer ask for?
I’ve been to a lot of committee hearings over the last year, but this was one of the most emotional for me. Yes, I’ve heard the stories about Danny and John, and about Marsha and Louise before, and they touched me deeply. But today, their stories were juxtaposed with those of marriage bigots who demand special rights for heterosexual couples. (And I’m sad to have to use the term “bigot”, but their arguments hold no more water than those who worked to deny women’s right to vote in the early 20th century or those who worked to deny rights to African Americans in mid-century.) My head reeled with the thoughts of how can these people call themselves religious? Religion involves compassion and understanding, but these people did not understand a word that was spoken.
Thankfully, Senator Scutari announced that he would limit the testimony to three hours, and he fairly apportioned time to both side. The sergeants-at-arms did a great job of getting witnesses in and out, maximizing the number of people who were given the opportunity to speak.
I was happy to see clergy there from all faiths – the equality proponents greatly outnumbered the supporters of marriage discrimination. The latter group still does not understand that the bill does not require them to perform marriage ceremonies on those couples who they choose not to.
Senator Scutari kept his word – the testimony was cut off at the appointed time, with dozens of people on each side still waiting to testify. But it would have all been repetitive and would not have added much value had the testimony been allowed to go on.
During the testimony, Senator Bateman announced that Governor Christie was promoting a referendum on civil rights, after which Senator Sweeney (who’s not a member of the committee, but stayed to listen to all of the testimony) said such a proposal was DOA. You just don’t hold referendums on civil rights.
Unfortunately, NJTV chose to run cartoons during this important hearing. I’m sure they’ll have sound bites to show, but Blue Jersey has gavel-to-gavel recording. I won’t post it all, but will post the most important parts – from both sides. Below is the post-hearing press conference with the sponsors of the bill. Later, I’ll post the testimony of the legislators and their statements during the voting. As time permits, I’ll post (but not front page) some of the other testimony. Look for it on the sidebar over the next few days. It’s important to hear from both sides – the compelling rationale from the equality proponents and the hollow arguments of the opponents.
I was an ambivalent teen ager during the Montgomery and Selma marches. But today, I felt that I was part of a new, 21st century civil rights movement.
Next up, is the full Senate vote. I’m told that will be on February 13. Blue Jersey will be there.