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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) in New Jersey via the Legislature

2012-JAN 24 to JAN-27: Governor Christie plans
veto. Votes in Legislature. Referendum debate.

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In this essay:
"SSM" refers to same-sex marriage;
LGBT refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons

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This is a continuation from an earlier essay

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2012-JAN-24: Governor Christie promises to veto bill:

At a town hall meeting held during the Judiciary Committee meeting, Governor Christie promised to veto the bill if it arrives on his desk. He said that a topic of this magnitude should be determined by a referendum rather than by the Legislature. He said:

"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. Let's let the people of New Jersey decide what is right for the state."

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) a sponsor of the bill in the Senate said that same-sex marriage is a civil rights matter.  Since access to marriage by same-sex couples is guaranteed by the state Constitution, it does not require a public vote. 1 He said:

"Civil rights is not to be placed on the ballot. It’s to be voted on by the people in this house."

Senator Sweeney described the governor's promise to veto the bill as a:

"The governor may not have said it directly, but yesterday saw the official opening of his campaign for vice president. There’s only one reason for the governor to abandon his moral compass so quickly, and that’s to bulk up his conservative bona fides in a transparent audition for a Mitt Romney-Chris Christie ticket." 8

Former State Public Advocate Ronald Chen testified about a similar referendum on human rights back in 1915. It was a referendum to decide whether women would be allowed to vote. Women's suffrage was defeated by a vote of 184,390 to 133,282. 2

Another sponsor of the bill, Senator Ray Lezniak said:

"It's not like sports betting. It's a civil right that’s guaranteed in the constitution." 3 

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2012-JAN-27: Positions of the legislature and governor hardening:

It would seem that the bill is probably going to pass the Senate with 21 votes or more. Twenty-one votes are the minimum required in the 40 member body\. However, with Governor Christie's promised veto, 27 votes would be required to override the veto. That appears to be out of reach, particularly with a promise from the governor:

"If the bill comes to my desk, I will veto it, and I will work, as hard as I have to work, to make sure my veto is sustained. ... Let the people decide. I don’t know why the advocates for same-sex marriage are afraid of letting the people decide. Let them pass the bill, too, if they have the votes to do it. But we all know how this movie is going to end. If they pass the bill — and they know this — it will be vetoed, and if they attempt to override the veto, it will be sustained."

Senator Loretta Weinberg (D) referred to the governor's position as:

"... disappointing. What should be a vote of conscience is quickly becoming a vote of party purity and a show of support for the governor."

Senator Diane Allen (R) said that she is:

"... leaning toward being in favor [of the bill]. ... The governor is entitled to his view. ... I know there is certainly talk of a vote in November, but I’m unclear if that legislation for a referendum will even be posted. I’m hearing a lot of dialogue on this from both sides. That’s good. One needs to listen to everyone’s thoughts."

Senator Sweeney referred to Governor Christie's proposal of a referendum as a:

"... cowardly display of national political ambition gone haywire. ... To say that a matter of civil rights should be subject to a political campaign is not only a cowardly abdication of leadership, but a slap in the face to those whose rights are being trampled. It’s an embarrassing display of political greed. It is shameful for the governor to use his office to bully members of his party into abandoning their consciences in the name of his own political ambition.

There are rumors that the governor may seek the Republican candidacy for vice-president in the 2012-NOV elections. If he were to follow the wishes of the majority of New Jersey voters, and the will of the Legislators by signing the bill into law -- or even do nothing and allow the bill to become law by default -- his chances of advancing from the state to national Republican scene would be nil.

The vote by the full senate is expected on FEB-13. 4

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Debate about a referendum on election day, 2012-NOV:

Pro-marriage equality groups are cool to the suggestion that SSM be decided by a referendum. Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, said that a referendum would not reflect the people's will because millions of dollars spent on negative advertisement would unduly warp the results. He said:

"A referendum reflects which side can corrupt the political system with more money."

A referendum would have to be authorized by the legislature. Democrats who control both houses are also cool to the idea.

Governor Christie defended the idea of a referendum by saying: " "People would have been happy with a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South." 5

John Lewis (D-GA) responded:

"Apparently, the governor of this state has not read his recent history books ... most of the governors ... were outright segregationists. ... I fought too long and too hard against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up and speak out against discrimination based on sexual orientation." 5 reported:

"Many of those speaking for the Democrats were African-American leaders who related the battle for gay marriage to the fight for civil rights for blacks. 'No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and the sentiments of the majority,' said Newark Mayor Cory Booker." 6

The Bilerico Report found some interesting quotes from the African American civil rights era about referendums:

  • A NAACP official who fought a 1964 ballot initiative that tried to repeal a nondiscrimination housing law in Seattle said: "When you are dealing with rights granted by our Constitution there is no such thing as 'majority rules.' The Constitution grants rights to minorities, and the majority should not be able to vote down these rights."

  • During the late 1950s, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the major heroes of World War II, said that civil rights do not make "... a very good subject for a referendum."

  • GOP Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, also in the late 1950's said: "I'm not going to pass the buck to the people back home and say, 'I'm thinking about the next election.' And they would say, 'Haven't you got any guts to stand up under the Constitution of the United States'?"

"HJB" posted a comment about referendums to an article on SSM at Towleroad:

"The founding fathers were virtually unanimous in fearing unchecked citizen democracy, considering it the equivalent of mob rule. If they really wanted that, we wouldn't need a constitution, judiciary or legislature, just keep voting on everything and an executive would implement the will of the crowd.

Instead, the constitution clearly outlines a system of checks and balances, and further amendments grant us certain rights that can't be tampered with by the majority. The founding fathers were extremely concerned with the tendency for majorities to trample on the rights of minorities, and the independent judiciary was created to ensure that these rights are protected. We see this again and again in the course of civil rights history, it almost always starts with the judiciary protecting the minority group from the minority. For bigoted reasons conservatives decided that gays weren't entitled to this protection, and attacked the 'activist judiciary', even though the judiciary is the only institution equipped to answer your question, what are civil rights. So we now have state governments enacting gay marriage to overcome conservative horror of judges actually doing their jobs. And now, all of the sudden, conservatives want to ignore legislatures as well as the judiciary, and devolve all power to the people. Well, I can guarantee that if you follow down this path on all issues, the republican party will not like the result. So apparently on almost all issues, except gay marriage, the people's will is to be ignored since the odds of a referendum resulting in tax cuts for the very wealthy are extremely low. But, just on gay issues, we need to throw this open to the crowd. Of course, this is the one sort of issue that our revered founding fathers would never have wanted to be voted on by the people ..." 7

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Senate panel OKs gay marriage bill," Asbury Park Press, 2012-JAN-24, at:
  2. Bill Mooney, "Former Advocate offers history lesson on referendums," Politicker NJ, 2012-JAN-24, at:
  3. Julie Bolcer, "N.J. Marriage Bill Advances, Christie Wants Referendum," The Advocate, 2012-JAN-24, at:
  4. Bob Jordon, "Stage set for fight over marriage bill. Gov. Christie, Democratic leaders in the Legislature are ready to go to the mat over the marriage bill," MyCentralNewJersey, 2012-JAN-27, at:
  5. Karen Ocamb, "Who Will NJ Gov Christie Listen to on Same Sex Marriage Rights?," Belerico Project, 2012-FEB-06, at:
  6. "N.J. gay marriage referendum could be costly, advocates warn," Associated Press, 2012-JAN-27, at:
  7. "NJ Assembly panel advances marriage equality bill; Christie calls himself 'magnanimous' for suggesting referendum," TowleRoad, 2012-FEB-02, at:
  8. Terrence Dopp, "Christie Says He’d Abide by N.J. Gay Marriage Ballot Results," Bloomberg, 2012-JAN-25, at:

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Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > SSM Menu > New Jersey > here

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Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2012-JAN-24.
Latest update: 2012-FEB-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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