Back in 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution affords equal protection to same-sex couples. As a result, the state legislature created civil unions, but was not willing to pass same-sex marriage. This “separate but equal” arrangement was tried, but was rife with unequal treatment, even though the law put civil unions and opposite-sex marriage on the same plane. (See the testimony at this site by scrolling to “Testimony from Citizens” for some compelling and poignant stories of why civil unions don’t work.)
As a result, in February of this year, both houses of the New Jersey legislature passed a historic bill that would end marriage discrimination in the state and allow same-sex marriage. Governor Christie, never one to pass up an opportunity to please his right-wing base, vetoed the bill within 24 hours of its appearing on his desk. He politicized the issue, calling for a referendum on this fundamental civil rights issue.
At the time of the veto, the legislature did not have enough votes to override, but one thing it did have is time. It has until the end of the current legislative session in January, 2014 to get 12 assemblypersons and 3 senators to switch and vote to override.
The other thing the legislature had is momentum. Attitudes toward marriage equality are changing for the better, and are changing quickly. The prime sponsors of the bill – S1 and A1 – continue to work behind the scenes to convince those who voted against equality (mostly Republicans) to vote their conscience instead of going lock step with the governor.
But now things have changed.
More – including the complete interview with Assemblyman Gusciora and Garden State Equality’s Steven Goldstein’s reaction – below the fold.
One of the original sponsors, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (who is one of two openly gay assemblymen), reversed his position and is now calling for a referendum in 2013. I spoke with Gusciora today about this – I’ll let him explain.
(We also talked about other issues, notably gun control, mental health issues, and poverty. His comments appear toward the end of the video below.)
After our interview, I spoke by telephone with Steven Goldstein, Chair of Garden State Equality. The anguish in his voice was palpable. He said that a referendum in 2013, with a popular governor on the top of the ballot and tons of right-wing money being funneled into the state, was the “worst possible recipe” for marriage equality. Without naming names, he indicated that over the past 10 months, marriage equality advocates have made significant progress in their goal to get enough votes to override Christie’s veto. “We are closer to an override than ever”, he said. But with a referendum on the ballot, he noted that progress will be diminished because it would “provide cover” for those Republicans who are on the fence to vote to sustain the veto. Goldstein pointed out that if a referendum were defeated it would send a bad signal to the courts, and could affect the Democratic majority in the legislature.
When I asked him what would happen if the voters on the proposed referendum turned down marriage equality, Goldstein pointed out that the issue was moot because Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, fierce supporters of marriage equality, will never bring the referendum proposal to the floor of the Senate.