In a strongly worded letter, more than 200 top Democratic activists are calling on Democratic legislators to enact marriage equality legislation.
"New Jersey has a proud history of supporting civil rights. It was this legacy that encouraged many of us to become involved in politics. We believe that allowing committed gay and lesbian couples to marry is, at its core, about treating our family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors with dignity and respect," the letter reads. "We appreciate that this is a difficult issue for some state legislators. But marriage equality is an idea whose time has come. We are confident that the voters will stand by those elected officials who do the right thing."
The letter to Democratic legislators was signed by a combination of veteran party leaders, young staffers, major fundraisers, political consultants and operatives, and local elected officials. Signers include Newark Mayor Cory Booker and U.S. Reps. Rush Holt, Frank Pallone and Steven Rothman.
The state's Democratic leadership had committed to supporting the legalization of same sex marriage after the General Election, but Gov. Jon Corzine's defeat has caused some Democratic legislators to back off their support. Gov.-elect Christopher Christie, a Republican, has said he would veto marriage equality legislation, which means Democrats have a narrow window if they want to enact the law.
The list represents a huge collection of names of those who play key roles in getting Democrats elected in New Jersey.
"A lot of us are feeling let down, especially younger Democrats," said Ronald C. Rice, a member of the Newark City Council. "We sense there is an enthusiasm gap in Democratic support for this legislation, and we are asking Democrats to live up to the mandate set for them by their own party."
"We are saying to lawmakers that you have relied on many of us to get the vote out for you in election after election. Now we are relying on you to vote on an issue that goes to the heart of why so many of us became involved in Democratic politics in the first place," said Julie Roginsky, a Democratic consultant.
Victor Herlinsky, a lawyer and prominent Democratic fundraiser, says that "people have worked hard to raise money to support Democratic lawmakers precisely because they are Democrats and support the party's progressive social policies."
"We understand that not every member agrees on this issue, but it's time for Democrats to be democratic and vote up or down on marriage equality," said Herlinsky. "People have a right to know where their representatives stand on this issue."
Paul Josephson, a former Chief Counsel to the Governor, says that New Jersey's civil union law, enacted after a ruling by the state Supreme Court three years ago, has failed to provide the same rights as legal marriage.
"The civil union is an experiment that has failed. It attempted to offer gay and lesbian couples the legal rights of marriage without actually calling it marriage," said Josephson, the Counsel to the Democratic State Committee who ran the State's Division of Law in 2003 and 2004 and has represented many Democratic candidates.
"Separate but equal is not equal. As the Civil Union Review Commission found, gay and lesbian couples still face serious hurdles in obtaining equal health benefits and medical attention simply because they are not technically 'married' under New Jersey law. In the real world, civil union provides an incomplete bundle of rights. "
Josephson says there is no room in New Jersey for discrimination.
"We haven't fought these battles only to do the safe thing. We didn't become Democrats to tolerate an injustice. We became Democrats to fight injustice. Let's right this once and for all," Josephson said.
The full list of signers:
Ravinder S. Bhalla
Angelo J. Genova
Steven W. Kleinman
Orin S. Kramer
James W. Manning, Jr.
Rocco A. Mazza
Raymond J. McCarthy
Rob Menendez, Jr.
Neil Mullin, Esq.
Jim C. Peeler
Braxton J. Plummer
Ronald C. Rice
Keith M. Rosso
John C. Schwebel
Nancy Erika Smith
Rosanna J. Tangorra
Earl Thomas Teasley
Harry Zikas, Jr.
The full text of the letter:
AN OPEN LETTER CALLING ON DEMOCRATIC LEGISLATORS
TO POST MARRIAGE EQUALITY LEGISLATION FOR A VOTE
We believe that equality and fairness are fundamental principles of New Jersey's Democratic Party, and that is why we call on the state legislature to vote immediately on, and pass, the marriage equality bill.
New Jersey has a proud history of supporting civil rights. It was this legacy that encouraged many of us to become involved in politics. We believe that allowing committed gay and lesbian couples to marry is, at its core, about treating our family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors with dignity and respect.
We appreciate that this is a difficult issue for some state legislators. But marriage equality is an idea whose time has come. We are confident that the voters will stand by those elected officials who do the right thing.
When our children and grandchildren look back on this moment, we want to be able to tell them that we, too, did the right thing.
As Martin Luther King poignantly reminded us, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." That is why we're proud to lend our names and our voices to this important cause. We do so in our capacity as private citizens and Democratic voters, and not on behalf of any particular office or organization.