After a month of legislative limbo, the New Jersey Senate defeated the hotly debated marriage-equality bill in a 20-14 vote with three abstentions Jan. 7, killing the bill’s chances of passage this session and likely for at least four years: Gov. Jon Corzine (D), a strong proponent of same-sex marriage, will vacate the office Jan. 19 to be replaced by Gov.-elect Chris Christie (R), who pledged to veto any marriage-equality measure during his tenure.
Although hopes for New Jersey to become the next state to welcome marriage equality appeared dim, Garden State Equality and national LGBT-rights organization Lambda Legal announced shortly after the vote that they will next take the issue to the courts.
“We are not waiting out the term of any new administration to bring equality to same-sex couples in our state,” said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, at a news conference after the vote.
Lambda Legal previously was successful with this effort in Lewis v. Harris, a case filed in 2002 on behalf of seven same-sex couples in New Jersey that resulted in the 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples deserved all the rights afforded to heterosexual married couples.
The state’s legislature that year enacted its civil-union law, but a 2008 report by the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission found the law did not provide the same rights as marriage and that many employers or other institutions were not recognizing couples with civil unions as married.
Lambda Legal spokesperson Lisa Hardaway said this week she could not release the specifics of the new suit, but said she expects it to be filed in the coming weeks.
Goldstein said that prior to Corzine’s defeat last fall, marriage equality was on track for success.
“After his win in November, Gov.-elect Christie persuaded a number of legislators to reverse their support of the bill. Before the election, nearly every neutral observer in New Jersey thought marriage equality was certain to become law,” Goldstein said. “Before the election, we had votes to spare in the Senate, including from a number of Republicans.”
The Senate vote ran mostly along party lines, with one Republican, Sen. Bill Baroni, casting a vote for marriage equality. Also in favor were cosponsoring Sens. Raymond Lesniak, who is openly gay, and Loretta Weinberg, Senate President Richard Codey and Sens. Nia Gill, Jim Whelan, Bob Smith, Barbara Buono, Teresa Ruiz, Sandra Cunningham, Brian Stack, Robert Gordon, Nicholas Scutari and Joseph Vitale.
Legislators opposed included Democrats Sens. John Girgenti, Nicholas Sacco, Fred Madden, Ronald Rice, Jeff Van Drew and Shirley Turner, along with Republicans Robert Singer, Joseph Pennacchio, Christopher Bateman, Tom Kean, Jennifer Beck, Joseph Kyrillos, Gerald Cardinale, Michael Doherty, Kevin O’Toole, Philip Haines, Christopher Connors, Anthony Bucco, Steven Oroho and Sean Kean.
Incoming Senate President Stephen Sweeney, as well as Sens. Paul Sarlo and James Beach, all Democrats, abstained from voting. Sen. Diane Allen, who is battling cancer, and Sen. Andrew Ciesla, both Republicans, did not attend the session. The Fifth District Senate seat is vacant.
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.