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

Unsuccessful attempts to legalize SSM in
New Jersey via the Legislature: 2008 to 2010

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Earlier information about the case

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

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2008-DEC-10: Panel recommends SSM for New Jersey:

The governor, other state officials and stage agencies selected personnel for a 13 person Civil Union Review Commission (CURC). They were given the task of evaluating the state's civil union law and making a recommendation.

Their recommendation was unanimous! They concluded that same-sex couples cannot achieve equality with opposite-sex couples if the former's legal status is limited to civil unions. They recommended that New Jersey follow the lead of some of the other states in the Northeast by allowing all loving, committed couples to marry, irrespective of their gender.

After an 18 month investigation, they issued a 79 page report, stating that:

"The Commission finds that the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children."

Citing "overwhelming evidence," their report stated that:

"... civil unions will not be recognized by the general public as the equivalent of marriage in New Jersey."

The report described the experiences of some same-sex civil unionized couples in which one partner was denied the health insurance provided to their partners because the provider did not recognize civil unions. There may be situations in which hospitals may not recognize a civil union as granting the right for one same-sex partner to make medical decisions on behalf the other partner. In both cases, these rights are automatically given to opposite-sex married couples.

Joseph Roberts (D), speaker of the Assembly, said:

"Same-sex marriage in New Jersey is only a matter of 'when', not 'if.' The report should spark a renewed sense of purpose and urgency to overcoming one of society's last remaining barriers to full equality for all residents."

Gov. Jon Corzine said the issue should be resolved "sooner rather than later" He noted that civil unions appear to have fostered inequality by creating a separate class of relationships. He said:

"I encourage the legislature to seriously review the commission's report and ... I will sign marriage equality legislation when it reaches my desk."

Assemblyman Michael Doherty, (R) who opposes same-sex marriage, said the issue should be submitted to voters in a ballot. He said:

"The people of New Jersey should decide just like they did in California so that a judge doesn't have to." 1

This method opens up the possibility that any minority could be deprived of any important civil right -- like the right to marry the person that they love and to whom they wish to give a lifelong commitment -- by a simple vote of 50% of the electorate plus one vote. Some consider this a dangerous precedent.

A copy of the CURC final report, titled: "The legal, medical, economic & social consequences of New Jersey's civil union law" is available online at: http://www.gardenstateequality.org This is a PDF file.

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2009-DEC-07: Senate committee narrowly passes SSM bill:

In mid 2009-NOV, State Sen. Paul Sarlo, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that there were insufficient votes in the committee to approve a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. He said:

"Until somebody can demonstrate that we have the votes in the Judiciary Committee, it will not be posted. I'm not going to put people in harm's way where they have to vote 'yes' or 'no' when we don't have the votes to get it out [of committee]." 2

The few extra votes were scrounged up by early December as a bill to legalize same-sex marriage (SSM) in the state was narrowly passed by that committee by a vote of 7 to 6. The vote was taken on late DEC-07 after eight hours of impassioned debate.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D), one of the bill's sponsors urged that committee members vote for the bill to guarantee "the right of every citizen ... to live with the person you love in full peace and security."

Sen. Gerry Cardinale (R) said that marriage equality would harm society. He said:

"Some have chosen a path and I believe this law will encourage others to follow that path, and I do not think that will be good for this society."
He criticized marriage equality advocates for promoting the bill only a few weeks after state voters rejected the re-election of Governor Corzine in favor of the more conservative Republican candidate.

Cardinale said:

"This is a governor whose re-election has been defeated by the people of this state. This was an issue that was raised in the campaign. To allow this new culture-changing policy to take effect before the new governor is sworn in seems to me to be snubbing our nose at the people of this state and the way they voted." 3

The bill then continued to the full Senate where a quick vote was expected as soon as DEC-10. Time was of the essence on this bill because the governor, Jon Corzine (D), was scheduled to leave office in six weeks. The Democrats hold 23 seats in the Senate compared with 17 seats for the Republicans. However, some senators have indicated that they were influenced by the setbacks to SSM recently experienced in Maine and New York. 4 If the bill had been passed by the senate, it would almost certainly be also passed by the Assembly. Governor Corzine had promised to sign the bill if it was passed by the legislature.

On DEC-09, the debate in the Senate was called off. A survey of senators on DEC-08 shows that 13 support the bill (including one Republican), 18 oppose it and 9 were undecided or refused to answer. Debate then shifted to the Assembly. 5

Chris Christie (R) is Corzine's replacement. He had promised to veto any bill that grants marriage equality to all loving, committed couples. The chance of the legislature overriding a governor veto would be essentially nil.

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2009-DEC-08: Bruce Springsteen endorses SSM bill:

Rock star Bruce Springsteen released a short statement on his website supporting the SSM bill. He wrote:

"Like many of you who live in New Jersey, I've been following the progress of the marriage-equality legislation currently being considered in Trenton. I've long believed in and have always spoken out for the rights of same sex couples and fully agree with Governor Corzine when he writes that 'The marriage-equality issue should be recognized for what it truly is -- a civil rights issue that must be approved to assure that every citizen is treated equally under the law'."

He called for other bill supporters to "... let their voices be heard." 6

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2010-JAN-07: Senate kills same-sex marriage bill:

The New York Times reported:

"The State Senate on Thursday rejected a proposal that would have made New Jersey the sixth state in the nation to allow marriages involving same-sex couples. The vote was the latest in a succession of setbacks for advocates of gay marriage across the country."

"After months of intense lobbying and hours of emotional debate, lawmakers voted 20 to 14 against the bill, bringing tears from some advocates who packed the Senate chambers and rousing applause from opponents of the measure, who also came out in force. The vote ends the effort to win legislative approval of the measure, and sets the stage for a new battle before the New Jersey Supreme Court."

Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, said: "We applaud the senators for upholding a time-tested institution: marriage'"

With the failure of the SSM bill, LGBTs and their supporters will attempt to obtain a ruling from the state Supreme Court. In 2006, that court ordered the legislature to give same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex married couples. The legislature created a system of civil unions in order to meet the court's ruling. However, gay-rights leaders say that even with civil unions, same-sex couples are still discriminated against when applying for insurance or trying to visit partners in hospitals. The panel, mentioned above, unanimously ruled that the civil union system institutionalized inequality for same-sex couples.

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Reactions to the death of the Senate bill:

bullet Steven Goldstein, chairperson of Garden State Equality, commented: "Even our opponents in the Legislature acknowledge that the civil-union law has not provided equal protection."

bullet Leslie Gabel-Brett, director of education and public affairs for Lambda Legal Defense Fund, a group fighting for equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations, said: "We are upset, we are disappointed, but we aren't done fighting."

bullet Jon Tomicki, an official in the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage, which is opposed to SSM, urged lawmakers to initiate a referendum. He said: "In 30 other states, voters have gotten the chance to decide. There’s no reason why New Jerseyans shouldn't have the same right."

Support for SSM among the voters of New Jersey has risen from about 27% circa 1995 to about 40% circa 2004 and to 49% in 2008-2009 polls. As of early 2010, it is probable that a majority of New Jersey adults favor SSM. Whether or not a referendum would create SSM would probably come down to the effectiveness of advertising campaigns by both sides.

bullet Senator Gerald Cardinale (R, Cresskill) is opposed to allowing loving, committed same-sex couples to marry. Before voting "no" he said: "There are many who believe that this bill will change our entire culture."

bullet Senate President Richard J. Codey, (D-Essex) drew an analogy between SSM and past discrimination against women and racial minorities. He said: "One day people will look back and say, 'What were they thinking?' ... What were they so afraid of?' "

bullet Christi Sturmont, who with her lesbian partner were described as dejected, but not despondent, said: "We were holding out hope that we’d be able to get married and have full citizenship. But now we’ll have to settle for second-class citizenship. For now. We’re not done fighting." 7

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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. "Panel says New Jersey should allow gay marriage," Reuters, 2008-DEC-10, at: http://www.reuters.com/
  2. "Clock Running Out on Same-Sex "Marriage" in New Jersey," Life Site News, 2009-NOV-16, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
  3. "NJ Committee Passes Same-Sex 'Marriage' Bill: Senate Vote Expected Thursday," Life Site News, 2009-DEC-08, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
  4. "New Jersey Marriage Bill Passes First Hurdle," Advocate, 2009-DEC-07, at: http://www.advocate.com/
  5. Mary Fuchs, "N.J. Senate delays vote on gay marriage bill," 2009-DEC-09, at: http://www.nj.com/
  6. "Rocker Bruce Springsteen endorses N.J. gay marriage bill," The Star Ledger, 2009-DEC-08, at: http://www.nj.com/
  7. David Kocieniewski, "New Jersey Senate Defeats Gay Marriage Bill," New York Times, 2010-JAN-07, at: http://www.nytimes.com/

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

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Copyright © 2009 & 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Parts originally written: 2009-APR-23
Latest update: 2011-JUN-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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