TRENTON — Supporters of marriage quality packed the Statehouse complex today, forming a long line to the committee room where the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote to move the legislation on to the full senate.
Garden State Equality Chairman Steven Goldstein said his group turned out 1,100 supporters of the marriage equality legislation, and that he expects up to 400 more as the day progresses.
"This is the largest crowd we've ever had for a Garden State Equality event," said Goldstein.
Pro-gay marriage activists have filled the committee room where the hearing is set to take place, overflowing into other committee rooms and the Statehouse Annex hallways.
Also at the statehouse are opponents to the legislation — a significant number, but hard to notice in the crush of the legislation's supporters
Today New Jersey sits at the crux of a national social policy debate, a fact reinforced by the media presence. There are 11 television cameras set up in the committee room, many from the major network affiliates from New York City and Philadelphia.
Television cameras crowded around state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth), a sponsor of the legislation and one of the first senators to arrive.
"We're going to appeal to the senators' compassion, to their sense of decency, their hearts and their souls," said Lesniak.
Goldstein said he was thrilled by the turnout.
"It's a really poignant moment for me personally, having founded this organization five years ago and now the baby is all grown up and empowered," said Goldstein. "I'm so deeply moved by the support of the gay community, but I'm even more deeply moved that many of the people here today – probably about half – are straight. For a civil rights organizer, that's a dream."
Opponents, however, do not consider it a civil rights issue. Most support a public referendum on a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as strictly between one man and one woman.
But Goldstein tried to minimize the tension between the two sides. He singled out one of the chief opponents of the legislation, Council of the American Family Chairwoman Seriah Rein, pushed through the crowd to her and greeted her warmly, kissing her on the cheek.
Over the years, the two have fought over the gay couples' right to adopt and adding sexual orientation into anti-discrimination laws.
"I don't think because Dr. Rein doesn't share my views, I don't think that she's homophobic… If I get heat from my community for saying that, so be it," said Goldstein.
"He knows my heart, and he knows my genuine compassion for those in the gay community," said Rein.