TRENTON – Three Democratic sponsors of S1, the marriage equality bill approved in committee today, believe there are more votes for the bill in Trenton, but that the votes are in the Republican caucus and being silenced by Gov. Chris Christie.
“A couple of them took a cop-out,” state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), Teaneck, said of the Republicans. She said that Christie’s referendum proposal in Bridgewater today was an easy out for GOP lawmakers on the fence or being silenced.
State Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), Elizabeth, said, “Today, Gov. Christie took away the vote of Republican legislators.”
Asked whether the allegation was true, Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said, “We don’t comment on nonsense.”
Christie proposed a voter referendum on the issue, which is not a position supported by Democrats. “We vote on issues here,” state Sen. President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), West Deptford, said. “We don’t put (funding for) women’s healthcare centers on the ballot.”
Weinberg added, “We’re not putting the governor’s Supreme Court appointees on the ballot.”
Sweeney began to draw comparisons between this situation and President George W. Bush’s 2004 same-sex marriage ballot proposal that was reportedly meant to “gin up” religious conservative voters, many of whom are staunch opponents of marriage equality. But when asked whether he thought Christie was doing the same thing with the New Jersey bill and the election of liberal U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sweeney dodged.
Without mentioning Menendez, Sweeney said the referendum is a way for Christie to “avoid dealing with a real issue” and to give his allies an “out.”
Questioned about his motives to move this bill now after he crippled its chances in 2009 – at a time when the governor was willing to sign it – Sweeney’s voice rose: “I’m offended by that.” He said it is a civil rights matter that must be addressed, veto be damned.
“There are many Republicans – because I’ve spoken to them – who want to vote for this bill,” he said. And if it comes to a veto override, he said, the majority will use everything in their arsenal to persuade those Republican legislators. “We will work towards that if necessary.”