TRENTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee has taken up the marriage equality legislation in what is likely to be a very long session.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) – one of the bill’s prime sponsors – appealed to the senators by recounting her own 39 year marriage to her late husband, Irwin.
“What we’re voting on today is the right for every citizen to have the right that Irwin and I had: the right to live with the person you love in full peace and security,” she said.
Weinberg said that voting yes was “the hard thing to do,” but that public servants who made difficult choices are those revered decades later.
“We not have the right, nor the luxury, to deny people their civil rights because it’s hard or uncomfortable to do otherwise,” said Weinberg. “The vote you cast today will determine how we are all remembered, but more important it will determine whether tens of thousands of New Jereaysns are able to live in peace and happiness the same way that other New Jereseyans have been permitted to live their lives.”
The bill’s other prime sponsor, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) said the legislation will “make us a more compassionate, understanding and loving society.”
Assemblyman Reid Gusciora (D-Princeton) – the legislation’s primary sponsor in the other legislative body and the legislature’s only openly gay member– offered a brief, punchier speech in support of the bill.
Gusciora said that his own parents’ marriage survived the shortlived marriages of entertainer Britney Spears, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
“I doubt the opponents of this measure can truly tell you that having a same gender couple marry would destroy their marriage,” he said.
State Sen. Bill Baroni offered amendments that would expand protections from lawsuits and state penalties for religious and other organizations that refuse to perform same sex marriage, recognize them or provide space to them. The current version bill, he said, only protects Clergy.
Weinberg said she would accept Baroni’s amendments, but wanted to see them in print. They were referred to the Office of Legislative Services to be drawn up, and will be voted on later tonight.
The staunchest opposition has come from state Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest), who questioned the bill’s timing in between the gubernatorial election and the swearing in of Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie, who has pledged to veto it.
“It is no secret that we are rushing to get this bill to Gov. Corzine’s desk before mid-January, when he ceases to be a lame duck governor and becomes a private citizen,” said Cardinale. “He’s a unique lame duck. Not simply one whose term has expired, but one whose mandate has been revoked soundly.”
Cardinale reiterated his support for a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, noting that gay marriage has been rejected every time the public has voted on it.
“Only a few elitists, and I would saw left wing judges and… I would say left wing legislators, have passed it.”