Reed Gusciora on Marriage Equality

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.

Comments (2)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *