UPDATE: The New Jersey State Senate Judiciary Committee approved the marriage equality bill by a vote of 7-6, with amendments. Two Democrats voted no, while one Republican, Bill Baroni, voted yes. A vote on final passage in the full Senate is expected to be held on Thursday.
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.
For our in-state readers, tell your Senator to vote yes on marriage equality.
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 (10:09) The bill passes 7-6 and is released from committee. It will get a full vote on Thursday.
Update (10:05): Sarlo talks about how his faith teaches him that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a women. Sarlo votes no.
Update (10:02): Girgenti says supporting the measure would be violating his own conscience and the public conscience by voting yes. Girgenti votes no. Sarlo next
Update (10:00): Gill: “I vote for equality in marriage because I believe in the constitution.”
Update (9:51): Nia Gill talks about how religious freedoms are more than adequately protected in the bill. Gill says the bill is what the constitution requires. Gill then talks directly to Bateman: “I know you’re a skillful lawyer…[and] legislature. But there is nothing you can do to fix the Civil Union bill” short of enacting marriage equality.
Update (9:49): Lesniak to Bateman “When I heard you talk about Pearl Harbor, I thought we had you. You know, there were many gay men and women who were killed in those wars.” Lesniak votes yes. Nia Gill…
Update (9:48): Stack: “I proudly vote yes on this wonderful civil rights legislation.” Scutari also votes yes. Lesniak now…
Update (9:44) Loretta Weinberg is now speaking. She votes yes.
Update (9:39) First four Republicans vote no. Baroni returns to the theme of his opening remarks, that the debate is about balance. He concludes “Equality. Equal Treatment at law. That is not too much to ask….Tonight, I will be the first legislator in the history state of New Jersey to say the following. On the question of marriage equality, I vote yes.” The committeeroom erupts in applause, no doubt a standing ovation, which lasts for around half a minute.
Update (9:35) Vote on moving the bill
Bateman says Civil Unions won’t work, but isn’t willing to “change the definition of marriage.” No
Update (9:32) …I thought he was wrapping it up, but now he’s carrying on about how Governor Corzine is not morally entitled to sign important bills because he lost the election.
Update (9:30) Unlike witnesses, Senators are not limited in the time they can speak. Fortunately for everyone, Cardinale has the longest commute home of anyone on the panel. I don’t think he’ll go on too long. Cardinale is worried about the “unintended consequences” of the bill. He believes that the word “marriage” will encourage more people to choose to be gay, and that’s why he’s voting no.
Update (9:23) A motion to move the bill is made, but Cardinale wants to have a discussion before the vote. Cardinale says that calling Civil Unions “Domestic Partnerships” would have fixed the problems with the civil union bill. Was he listening to the seven hours of testimony?
Update (9:16) They return to Senator Baroni’s amendment to protect religious societies. Senator Weinberg accepts the amendments as friendly and moves the amendment. And she seconds it. Cardinale likes the amendment but wants to go further and give individuals license to discriminate against gay couples, but he gets nowhere. The amendment is approved unanimously.
Update (9:15) Roll call to end debate. Passes and debate has been concluded. No further testimony. Senator Sarlo thanks everyone for their patience and their respect of one another.
Update (9:13) Senator Sarlo says it appears there are still 25 opposed and 70 in favor waiting to testify. Sarlo asks if they feel they are compelled to testify and will have something new to offer the debate. He says we’ve heard the stories and understand the frustration and the pain. Senator Lesniak says he was going to offer Senator Cardinale the “good good.” He says they still have to debate the bill, vote on the bill and hopefully lobby legislators to vote on the bill Thursday. He seconds the chairman’s request. Senator Cardinale says it’s almost impossible for anyone to offer anything that hasn’t been said. He thinks the chair has been patient. He says he is quite sure the bill is going to be released and he’d go along with cutting off debate. I couldn’t make out what Senator Weinberg said.
Update (9:08) Deborah Jacobs from the NJ ACLU talks about the Lewis decisions. Talks about how civil unions are not giving equal rights. She then talks about student bullying and the restriction of free speech fears. She says the ACLU will represent Mr. Tamicki and stand up for for him. She says In this country we put our hand on the bible and swear to uphold the constitution, not put our hand on the constitution and swear to uphold the bible.
Update (9:05) Harriet Bernstein talks about why the word marriage is so important. It’s about the right to privacy and the protection of that right for all gay and lesbian families. Talks about how she has to out herself every time she fills out a form that asks married or single.
Update (8:58) A supporter from Mount Laurel tells the committee “all I want is a normal life.”
Update (8:54) Margaret Maloney speaks next. She has a hospital horror story…apparently someone changed “civil union partner” to “friend” on one of her documents. “The secondary status of civil union is confusing disruptive and serves no useful purpose, and at times it can interfere with running a business.”
Update (8:51): Eileen Dellavole who lives with her partner in Brick, who’s been receiving texts from her daugther all day.
Update (8:50): Heidi Ehman tells her family’s a heart-wrenching story.
Update (8:41): It seems like we are going through the list of people who were absent the first time they were called. Next up is Tom Wyka, the Democratic candidate in NJ-11 in 2006 and 2008, and his wife Betty. Wyka says that for the opponents of the bill, it’s about fear.