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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 14, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 50
Is New Jersey next? - Marriage equality could be on the Garden State's 2013 ballot
Section One
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Is New Jersey next? - Marriage equality could be on the Garden State's 2013 ballot

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, the state's first openly Gay legislator, introduced a bill on December 10 to put marriage equality on the ballot next year.

The next day, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney - like Gusciora, a Democrat - said he would not allow the bill to come to the floor of his chamber.

New Jersey's Democratic-controlled legislature passed a marriage equality bill in February, but Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it. Christie said at the time he thought the measure should go on the ballot.

'This [bill] is exactly what the governor wants,' Gusciora said when he announced the legislation.

While at least one Republican legislator, Sen. Kip Bateman, publically endorsed Gusciora's action, LGBT activists and their Democratic allies were largely opposed.

CHANGING CIRCUMSTANCES
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, said the victory of marriage ballot measures this year in Maine, Maryland, and Washington does not mean that a similar referendum in New Jersey would pass.

'With Chris Christie at the top of the ticket,' and with New Jersey sandwiched between the expensive New York and Philadelphia media markets, 'that makes a referendum in New Jersey an entirely different ballgame,' he said.

'If the assemblyman wants to do his own thing ... then God bless him, but I would imagine the leaders of the Legislature would consider his efforts dead on arrival.'

Democratic Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a co-sponsor of the 2012 marriage equality bill, echoed Goldstein's concerns. This year, he said, right-wingers had to fund a presidential campaign as well as U.S. Senate and House campaigns, and therefore their resources were spread thin.

'Next year, there are two governors' races and that's it - in New Jersey and Virginia,' Lesniak said. 'There will be tens of millions of dollars coming in from right-wing groups ... with all kinds of distorted messages, not only about same-sex marriage, but about homosexuality itself. It's a very dangerous course to proceed.'

OPPOSED ON PRINCIPLE
Senate President Sweeney said flatly he would block the bill even if the Assembly passed it.

'I have firmly stated before, and will say again now, that I do not believe you put civil rights on the ballot, period,' Sweeney said in a statement December 11. 'It is the job of elected officials to ensure that everyone is provided equal protection and equal rights under the law. We should not hide from that responsibility. We should embrace it.'

Sweeney said the Democratic strategy was to override Christie's veto before the legislative session ends in January 2014.

'We gave the governor an opportunity to ensure true marriage equality in this state, just as other states and nations have done. He punted by shamelessly issuing a conditional veto,' Sweeney said. 'I fully plan on overriding that veto before this legislative session is done.'

With only 60% of the Assembly and a similar 60% of the Senate, Democrats would have to hold firm as a voting block as well as attract some Republican votes to override Christie's veto. On the other hand, polling from November indicates that New Jersey voters favor marriage equality by a margin of 53% to 36%.

'I am the last person who believes civil rights should be on the ballot, but civil rights delayed is civil rights denied,' Gusciora said. 'The timing is right. There is broader acceptance.'

New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver has not said whether she will allow Gusciora's bill to move forward.

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