by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
On January 7 the New Jersey Senate defeated proposed legislation that would have granted same-sex couples the right to marry. The legislators debated the merits of 'The Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act' for over 90 minutes, resulting in the measure's 20 to 14 defeat.
The 14 yes votes fell short of the 21 needed for passage. Among the 22 Democrats, 13 voted yes and six voted no. Three Democratic senators, who were present during the debate, did not vote and two senators were absent.
Among the 17 Republicans, only one, Senator Bill Baroni Jr., voted for the bill.
The fight for same-sex marriage in New Jersey had become an uphill battle. Thursday's vote was seen as a last-ditch bid for approval before January 19, the day Republican Governor-elect Chris Christie takes office. Christie vowed to veto such a bill, while current New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine said he would have signed it.
Democratic Senate sponsors Loretta Weinberg and Raymond Lesniak asked Senate President Richard Codey to hold a floor vote on the bill as soon as possible. Earlier this week, after a group of 120 clergy members signed and addressed a letter to Codey urging him to pass the measure, and supporters of the bill held a rally at the Statehouse on January 4, Codey announced the Senate would vote on the bill.
During the measure's debate, the bill's prime sponsor Senator Weinberg urged colleagues to support the proposal.
"Who are any of us that we have some special knowledge that lets us deny marriage to anyone as inappropriate to same-sex couples? Same-sex couples are entitled to the same legal and social rights to celebrate their love like anyone else," said Weinberg.
Although statewide polls showed New Jersey residents split on the issue, Gay rights advocates were skeptical of its success in the New Jersey Senate. As early as Monday, it seemed the measure did not garner enough support for passage.
Opponents said they voted against the bill because the issue should be left to the state's residents to decide. "This is about letting the residents of New Jersey decide a major re-definition that has been recognized for thousands and thousands of years," said Republican Senator Michael Doherty.
Following the bill's defeat, Gay rights advocates said they would take their case back to court.
"We'll get the New Jersey Supreme Court to do what the legislature wouldn't," Senator Lesniak said.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the nation's LGBT media advocacy and anti-defamation organization called on media to spotlight Gay and Lesbian couples after the vote, saying, "these stories will raise awareness among New Jersey residents of the concrete harms that couples face without marriage protections.
"Only with marriage can Gay and Lesbian families fully take care of each other and today's vote is a painful loss for couples in New Jersey as well as across the country," said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. "The march towards equality is far from over."
In 2006, the New Jersey State Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to give committed same-sex couples all the rights and benefits of marriage. But by a 4-3 vote, the court said the state didn't have to call it marriage. Lawmakers responded by creating a civil unions law.
"Today's vote by the New Jersey Senate perpetuates a system of inequality in the Garden State," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Failing to provide loving, committed couples access to marriage leaves them separate and unequal - civil unions are not the same as marriage."
Garden State Equality, the state's main Gay rights group, says the civil unions amount to second-class status that falls short of true equality. Garden State Equality says a new lawsuit would claim the Legislature has not met the court's mandate.
Freedom to Marry, the Gay and non-Gay partnership working to win marriage equality nationwide, said they applaud Garden State Equality for continuing the fight for marriage equality in the state.
"Today the New Jersey Senate failed to do right by the New Jersey families harmed by exclusion from marriage," said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry. "Legislators themselves, even opponents, have confirmed that the civil union law does not work to protect and support families, and is no substitute for the freedom to marry."
Lambda Legal announced plans to go back to court to seek marriage equality because, they say, the New Jersey Senate failed to bring equality to the state.
"The requirement to ensure equality for same-sex couples, established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in its decision in our marriage lawsuit in 2006, has not been met," said Kevin Cathcart, executive director at Lambda Legal. "There is enormous, heartbreaking evidence that civil unions are not equal to marriage, and we will be going back to the courts in New Jersey to fight for equality. Too many families are at risk. We cannot wait any longer."
In the U.S. only five states, Iowa, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont, allow Gay marriage.
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