A bill to legalize same-sex marriage was the first measure to see introduction in both the Senate and Assembly on Wednesday, and both versions have the support of high-ranking leaders in the Democrat-led state legislature.
The Assembly version is being led by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, who is openly gay, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, while the Senate version was taken up by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, along with Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Sen. Raymond Lesniak.
The New Jersey Senate defeated a marriage-equality bill in January 2010 in a 20-14 vote, with three abstentions.
Sweeney was one of the lawmakers who abstained but has since denounced that choice and come out squarely in favor of marriage equality.
At a press conference Monday, Sweeney said he believed the measure would have the 21 needed votes for Senate passage, but did not provide a clear indication of whether backers could muster the 27 votes required to override a gubernatorial veto.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie has said he opposes same-sex marriage and would veto a marriage-equality bill.
If the measure were to reach Christie’s desk, he could, however, take no action on the bill, which would enable it to become law.
Sweeney said he wants a floor vote on the measure before March.
Oliver also said she would fast-track the measure through her chamber.
“All evidence shows New Jersey’s civil-union law falls far short in providing equality,” she said. “Civil unions send a message to the public that same-sex couples and their families are not equal to married couples in the eyes of the law. It sends a message that same-sex couples are not good enough to warrant equality. This is the same wrong message we heard from segregation laws. Separate treatment was wrong then, and separate treatment is wrong now. That’s why I am committed this session to posting marriage-equality legislation and making its passage a priority as soon as possible.”
The effort has the support of the majority of the federal lawmakers from New Jersey.
All of the state’s nine Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate issued a letter to state lawmakers Jan. 6, calling on them to continue the state’s “proud history of civil-rights leadership.”
The National Organization for Marriage this week pledged to spend up to $500,000 to fight marriage equality in New Jersey.
Advocates are also seeking to achieve marriage equality through the courts, as a suit on behalf of a number of same-sex couples is still pending.
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.