Reed Gusciora Goes Rogue on ME Referendum

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora is breaking with prominent GLBT advocates on the strategy to bring marriage equity to New Jersey:

New Jersey openly gay Assemblyman Reed Gusciora has always been the last person to advocate bringing civil rights to a vote. The Democratic lawmaker spearheaded a marriage equality bill in the New Jersey legislature earlier this year that passed but which GOP Gov. Chris Christie vetoed while urging activists to have it voted on by the people of New Jersey. When Gusciora criticized that approach, and lambasted Christie for controversially suggesting the issue of civil rights should have been put up for a vote in the South in the 1960s, Christie famously called him a “numbnuts.”

But now, frustrated that the Democratic leadership in the state legislature has not scheduled a veto override vote, as promised, and emboldened by polls that show a majority of New Jersey voters support marriage equality, Gusciora believes New Jersey voters should vote on the issue. And, confident after wins in Maine, Maryland and Washington state on marriage equality at the ballot, he has introduced a bill to put it on the ballot.


Gusciora accuses Democratic leaders, as well as Garden State Equality and the national gay groups, of playing politics with gay rights and pushing the issue off, including scheduling a vote to override Christie’s veto, until the fall, when the issue can be used in election campaigns against Republicans.

“There is no strategy,” he said in an interview on my SiriusXM OUtQ radio program this week. “The Human Rights [Campaign], the national groups, they need to talk to other gays in the state instead of one person, who everyone seems to talk about [Steven Goldstein, at Garden State Equality]. They’re not even talking to legislators. It’s short-sighted not to talk to openly gay legislators in the state. I don’t think [Goldstein] needs to criticize anyone with a contrarian opinion. We should do all of the above: We should post it for an override, which has little chance. We should continue with efforts in the courts. We should think about reintroducing it in the legislature. We should do all of the above, including a ballot measure.” [emphasis mine]

Hard to get more provocative than that. What are your thoughts?

Comments (16)

  1. Jersey Jazzman (Post author)

    The real referendum on ME should be the 2013 gubernatorial election. A referendum question distracts from that.

    Let’s make Christie own this. Let’s not let him get away with saying: “I’m leaving it up to the people.”

    Let’s put up a candidate who says: “I will fight for ME, and it will happen in my first term.” Christie’s inevitably wishy-washy response will look weak in comparison.

    Christie will lose and we’ll get ME. Win-win.  

  2. Jay Lassiter

    …..between gay rights and marijuana and gun control it’s clear that social issues are driving the debate in Trenton and Washington! Which is a far cry from last year when Birth Certificates, Self-Deportation and Death Panels were all the rage.  


  3. Joshua Henne

    if marriage equality was to be on the ballot…and let’s say it fails…isnt the worst-case scenario simply status quo for our state and for those individuals directly impacted?

  4. Joshua Henne

    On the flip side, wouldn’t putting marriage equality on the ballot bring young people and others who normally would not be inclined to be politically involved next year to stand up and take notice?

    And wouldn’t it force our elected officials to take a position on this measure that there is no wiggle room on?

    I don’t think we should stop moving things along thru the legislative process. And I don’t understand why it’s a binary choice.

  5. Senator Loretta Weinberg

    is a matter of discussion with legislative leadership; marriage equality supporters; and leaders of gay rights groups. It is not “something” we have overlooked or failed.

  6. Bertin Lefkovic

    There was an interesting debate about this topic on Facebook recently and I asked Louise Walpin for her permission to share her argument against a referendum with the Blue Jersey community.

    Marsha and I want marriage as much as anyone and have put our personal lives out there to achieve that goal for everyone. We are working hard both in the legislature and as plaintiffs in the Lambda Legal case and know with certainty that progress is being made on all fronts. Yes, it’s slower than we’d all like, but unfortunately we have a Republican governor with national aspirations.

    We refuse to participate in a referendum, where in essence we are begging our neighbors to “please let us have the same rights (they) enjoy.” Civil rights should never be put to a public vote; ask any civil rights leader and they will ask you the same things.

    Google Prop 8 and read the horror stories of what it did to California. Better yet ask Jon (Holden Gallucio), who I have always respected and feels as I do on the subject, to tell you the same stories he told me less than one year ago about his experience living in California during the Prop 8 battle… the referendum hurt children and families….how neighbors were pitted against neighbors and how children….including his children…could no longer play with others they thought they were their friends.

    I refuse to take part in scenarios such as that and refuse to put myself out for homophobic statements by those opposing marriage equality who seek to win over the people. Will they say that Marsha and I deserve to have lost our son….that it was a result of G-d’s wrath??? You bet they will because that’s the way they run their campaign.

    This call for a referendum is playing into Christie’s/Kips/Cardinale’s, et al hands.  This call for an override will undo much of the hard work Steven, ourselves and others have been doing since February. Legislators have moved on the subject of an override. We have more votes and others are seriously considering it. Talk of a ballot referendum gives them an easy out and could also hurt the court case. We could be set back decades.

  7. Bertin Lefkovic

    I was willing to give Reed Gusciora the benefit of the doubt when it was just his point of view against Steve Sweeney’s, but now that GSE has weighed in on the issue, I think that the path that marriage equality advocates should follow is pretty clear.  Reed is clearly pissed off that he has been left out on a limb by himself (and Kip Bateman and Chris Christie) on the issue of a referendum, but I think that it is hard to care about his feelings when you consider the fact that he chose to move from Princeton to Trenton after redistricting so that he could run for re-election in a safe district than take Bateman on in a competitive district.

    Opponents of a referendum have argued at length about how divisive and ugly the battle can get on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis and I completely understand the reticence of marriage equality advocates to go down that road except as a last resort, because for many the damage that can be done to long-standing relationships once the lawn signs go up may not necessarily be undone once the battle is won or lost, making victory a potentially pyrrhic one for many.

    Considering the fact that Reed was unwilling to put his political career on the line when he had the opportunity to fight this battle against Bateman, I do not think that he has any right to expect others to put their communities into a state of trench warfare, especially when the legal and legislative paths to equality have not yet run their course.

    I also think that endorsing a referendum in the way that Reed has gives political cover to those like Bateman who might otherwise vote for a veto override, but will vote against it and try to pass the buck to the voters.  At the same time, I still believe that Sweeney’s opposition to a referendum has more to do with the 2013 gubernatorial and legislative election cycle than any principles that he may or may not have.

    If Christie wins re-election this year and the veto override fails during the lame duck session, I think that Sweeney will be one of the first to advocate for a referendum in 2014, because he and the rest of the Democratic establishment in NJ do not care nearly as much about the congressional and senatorial elections that will take place that year.

  8. Jersey Jazzman (Post author)

    Not sure about that, Jay. I mean, I do agree social issues were not on the table in 2012.

    But the stuff you cite was pretty much confined to FoxWorld, IMHO. Most of the presidential campaign seemed to me to revolve around the economy and the deficit.

    Where you and I agree, I suspect, is that putting the social issues on the table is good for us and bad for Christie.

    He clearly is getting ready to run in 2016. He can’t win the Republican nomination unless he shows his Tea Party bona fides. That means he is going to have to run against policies NJ-ians like: medical pot, ME, sane gun laws, etc.

    So let’s do what Jay says: make this stuff the issues and drive them. Force Christie to take unpopular stands so he can win the Tea Bag vote in 2016.

  9. deciminyan

    … is why we need marriage equality.

  10. Jay Lassiter

    ….if we lose, we go back to the middle of the bus where the Gay community has languished for the past 5 years.  Basically we don’t lose ground, we stay where we are.

  11. denniscmcgrath

    each constitutional question on the ballot must be about one thing.

    So, you could have a question: Should NJ legalize same sex marriage?

    If it loses, you could put the same question on the ballot again later.

    Or you could have the question: Should marriage in New Jersey be restricted to one man and one woman?

    If that wins, there’s a real big problem.

    My guess is that BOTH those questions will be on the ballot.

    I don’t think the ballot route is a particularly good one.

  12. Jersey Jazzman (Post author)

    It used to be putting gay marriage on a ballot energized the right’s base. Now we’re talking about it energizing the left.

  13. Joshua Henne

    2004, Rove puts that scary frightening prospect of gay marriage on the ballot in states all across the country to bring out social conservatives who abandoned him in 2000.

    9 years later…hearts have changed…minds have changed…and some of the opposition has literally died off if youre looking strictly generationally, while a decades worth of new voters who dont know any difference between “gay marriage” and just “marriage”

    And you would have every legislator and candidate for governor on record where they stand…not just for this ballot measure, but for history.

    plus, you’d have to think that with only Virginia, NJ and NYC up next year as races of high-profile note, you can see a whole slew of attention given to the issue.  yes, those against marriage equality, but also those who are for civil rights.  and that could bring out youth, left, etc.

  14. Jersey Jazzman (Post author)

    I actually agree with just about everything you say, Josh.

    But I can see Christie right now: “Well, here in NJ, we’re letting the people decide. I’m against it, but if it’s voted into law, I’ll have to enforce it.”

    It’s almost the perfect position for him: it lets him appease the Tea Party AND appear moderate.

    Having said that: if you asked me to choose between giving Christie the issue and doing whatever it took to pass ME, I’d choose ME. And I do think we can beat Christie without the issue.

    But it would sure be nice to get a twofer: hang Christie with the issue, AND get ME.

    This is one where I definitely see the merits of both sides politically.

  15. kfoster

    Christie is auditioning for the 2016 nomination and has been for some time. He couldn’t care less about what is best for NJ (even his twisted version of it) because he has to be very careful not to upset the national party loyalists.

    Civil rights have NO place on a ballot and I don’t understand how anyone can even begin to rationalize their placement there.

    All that being said, I have been becoming more and more disenfranchised with many NJ politicians and how and how so many of them will sell their constituents to the devil in order to further their own aspirations.

    I hope Barbara Buono wins this primary as she is one of a dying breed who actually is a real Democrat and from what I can tell, puts her constituents first. Not party bosses or favors.

  16. kfoster

    Putting stuff like this on the ballot only draws every last religious zealot out to the voting booths. Although all of the polls say that most Americans support it and think it should be legal, only a handful of them believe in it enough to get off their derrieres and vote!


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