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N.J. lawmakers end legislative push for same-sex marriage law

Monday, December 16, 2013
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TRENTON, N.J. — With same-sex marriage already legal in New Jersey, state lawmakers have stopped their push to codify the details through a bill, saying it is not urgent to address whether religious-affiliated organizations should be exempt.

A bill was to be discussed Monday before the state Senate Judiciary Committee, but state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, one of its prime sponsors, withdrew it over the weekend.

Rich Schultz, AP
Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey exchange vows as Mayor David DelVecchio officiates in the first same-sex marriage in Lambertville, N.J. history at 12:01 a.m. Monday, Oct. 21, 2013 in Lambertville, N.J. Asaro and Schailey hold the distinction of being the first couple to enter into a civil union in the state, when that law took effect in 2007.

“We’re not in any kind of, quote, ‘crisis,’” she said Monday. “We have a court decision that guarantees the right of marriage to gay couples in New Jersey.”

The legal and political fight over same-sex marriage has lasted more than a decade in New Jersey.

In October, the main issue was settled abruptly when the state Supreme Court refused to grant a stay that would have delayed implementation of a lower-court ruling that the state must recognize gay marriages. Three days later, weddings began. And Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, dropped his legal figh t against gay marriage.

For Christie, it was not a change of direction so much as a concession.

With the marriages allowed, gay rights groups halted what had been a major push to override Christie’s 2012 veto of a bill that to allow gay nuptials.

That bill included a provision that would have exempted not only unwilling clergy from performing ceremonies but would have allowed religious-affiliated groups – the Knights of Columbus, for instance, or the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting – not to allow ceremonies on their property.

For groups like the New Jersey Family Policy Council, those exemptions about where ceremonies could be banned did not go far enough.

“They should cover all organizations that are connected, whether they be hospitals or orphanages or any other organization, and people of conscience,” said the organization’s executive director, Len Deo. The latter group, he said, includes caterers, wedding planners and others whom he wanted to be ab le to deny providing services for same-sex weddings.

But for the groups that pushed for gay rights, the exemptions reaching beyond clergy – who are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution from performing weddings they oppose – were always seen as a compromise meant to sway on-the-fence lawmakers.

Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, among others oppose the exemptions now. “If we caveat those rights in any way,” said Troy Stevenson, the executive director of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, “we’re saying, ‘You’re still not equal.’”

Stevenson said legislation is still needed to address whether civil unions will be converted to marriages.

In the most recent incarnation of a bill to codify details of same-sex nuptials, Weinberg wanted to let religiously affiliated groups opt out of hosting gay weddings only if they restrict use of their facilities to their own members.

Jim White, the chairman of the religious and civi l rights committee for the Knights of Columbus, said keeping same-sex ceremonies out of the group’s halls is a low priority. White said the much bigger threat is the existence of gay marriage in the first place.

“We can’t abide by this,” White said. “Where that takes us, we don’t know.”

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