TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey state Senate committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Garden State, while Gov. Chris Christie vowed to veto the bill if it reached his desk, and instead said that gay marriage should be decided by the voters.
Earlier this month, Democrats introduced the bill, S1, the first in the new legislative session and a symbol of their commitment to passing marriage equality legislation.
In today’s hearing, same-sex marriage equality advocates focused on the state’s current civil unions law, which has led to legal inadequacies particularly in areas pertaining to survivor benefits, hospital visitation, or child custody issues.
During his testimony, Daniel Weiss — who is currently a lead plaintiff in a marriage equality lawsuit filed in New Jersey Superior Court last June — told lawmakers that when he was summoned to a hospital in New York City after his spouse John Grant was hit by a car and sustained life-threatening injuries, Weiss said the brain surgeon asked him; “What is a civil union?”
Opponents’ arguments included claims that same-sex marriage redefines the traditional centuries old meaning of marriage and numerous quotes from the Bible condemning homosexuality.
There were also statements that, even with broad religious exemptions written into the proposed law — protecting religious organizations the rights to not to solemnize same-sex weddings or provide facilities for their celebration — the bill would still threaten religious freedom.
Meanwhile, in a town-hall meeting in Bridgewater, N.J., Christie told the audience that an issue of such magnitude should be decided by the voters, a position held when he campaigned for office in 2009.
“Let’s make sure that political maneuvering is not what judges this and let’s make sure this is not someone just trying to have fun and create a campaign issue,” Christie said. “The institution of marriage if too serious to be treated like a political football.”
“I think this is not an issue that should rest solely in my hands, or the hands of the Senate President or the Speaker or the other 118 members of the Legislature,” he said. “Let’s let the people of New Jersey decide what is right for the state.”
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, one of the measure’s Democratic sponsors, said civil rights issues like the right to marry are guaranteed under the state’s constitution and do not require a public vote.
“Civil rights is not to be placed on the ballot. It’s to be voted on by the people in this house,” Sweeney said.
In Newark, Mayor Cory Booker agreed, and said he is firmly against leaving the question of gay marriage up to a referendum.
“I shudder to think what would have happened if the civil rights gains, heroically established by courageous lawmakers in the 1960s, were instead conveniently left up to popular votes in our 50 states,” Booker said in a statement.
Sweeney stated that enough votes exist to pass the bill in the Senate, and a floor vote is tentatively scheduled for February 13.
Democratic leaders in both chambers of the legislature are working with GOP counterparts to muster the two-thirds majority required to override the Governor’s promised veto. In the Senate, a sole Republican senator publicly supports the bill, and the veto threat from Christie holds the potential to make other members of the GOP caucus wary about crossing the governor.
A spokesman for Christie told LGBTQ Nation on Tuesday afternoon that as far as the Governor is concerned, he believes in traditional marriage.