NEW JERSEY – The state Senate denied marriage equality to all its citizens. The marriage equality bill failed to pass in a 20-14 decision despite Democrats holding the majority. Senators James Beach (D-Camden), Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) and Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) abstained and 2 other senators did not attend the state Senate session; Senator Diane Allen (R-Burlington) was one of those not attending, but her absence was due to her fight against cancer. The vote came after an hour and a half of public debate.
There was a good deal of uncertainty about the outcome of this bill. New Jersey Senate President Richard Codey (D) made clear that the state Senate did not have the votes to pass this bill, but supporters insisted that the vote take place today because Governor Jon Corzine (D) agreed he would sign the bill into law should it pass the Senate before the end of his term.
“Most assuredly, this is an issue of civil rights and civil liberties, the foundation of our state and federal constitutions,” the governor said. “Denying any group of people a fundamental human right because of who they are, or whom they love, is wrong, plain and simple.”
Corzine was defeated in his bid for reelection by Chris Christie (R). Christie is an opponent of this bill and will assume the office of Governor on January 19th.
The state Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers must extend marital rights to same-sex couples, and Governor Corzine signed a civil union bill into law in 2006. However, this has failed to extend full marriage equality to the LGBT community.
In 2008 a panel evaluated the differences between civil unions and actual marriage as per the dictates of the civil union law. The panel’s findings showed that while civil unions provided some of the benefits that married couples enjoy, it did not fully provide all the benefits and protections that married couples enjoy under New Jersey state law.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a marriage equality bill by a 7-6 vote on the 8th of December. The bill was then delayed due to uncertainty regarding its passing the state Senate. The reasons for that delay became self-evident during today’s voting in the Senate.
Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union), a strong supporter and sponsor of the bill, was driven to tears as a result of this outcome. Senator Lesniak has said that local religious organizations have actually written him in support of this bill.
Interestingly, the religious institutions that have contacted Lesniak to express their support of the bill are citing religious freedom as a reason for their support. They’ve said that state law has no right to dictate the parameters of marriage and thereby choosing by omission for whom congregations can and cannot hold official wedding ceremonies. “Government is wrong to interfere with religious beliefs,” Senator Lesniak said.