Encouraged by New York’s new marriage equality law, “Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature will reintroduce a gay marriage bill this week and have vowed to make same-sex unions a top priority two years after similar legislation was voted down,” the Associated Press is reporting:
Democrats tried but failed to shepherd a gay marriage bill through the Senate in the waning days of the Corzine administration in 2010 after Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, said he would sign it. Fourteen senators voted for the bill. The measure needed 21 votes to pass.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat who abstained, has regretted not voting ever since. He has called his inaction on the bill “the biggest mistake” of his legislative career. To indicate the importance he has since attached to the bill, Sweeney will be among its prime sponsors in the Senate along with incoming Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Sen. Ray Lesniak. It is being assigned the symbolic number S1, as the first bill of the new two-year session.
The measure will allow “religious institutions and personnel to opt out” of recognizing same-sex marriages and clergy members will not be compelled “to perform a gay marriage ceremony and no place of worship would be required to allow same-sex weddings at their facilities,” the report notes.
In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Lewis v. Harris that “every statutory right and benefit conferred to heterosexual couples through civil marriage must be made available to committed same-sex couples.” The New Jersey legislature responded to the decision by legalizing civil unions, but a 2008 review commission found that “the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children.” A marriage equality group is suing the state to establish same-sex marriage and will move forward with the lawsuit despite the legislative effort.
An August survey from Public Policy Polling found that 47 percent of New Jersey voters would “legalize marriage between same-sex partners, while 42 percent wanted to keep it illegal.” Gov. Chris Christie (R) says he supports civil unions but not marriage equality.
All nine Democrats from New Jersey’s Congressional delegation have written home offering their support for the marriage equality bill, noting that the state’s civil unions law “has not successfully provided equality to same-sex couples.”