N.J. lawmakers approve gay marriage, but veto looms

February 19, 2012

c. 2012 Religion News Service
TRENTON, N.J. (RNS) Even as Gov. Chris Christie's threat of a "swift" veto
looms, gay rights activists are celebrating after the state Assembly voted
on Thursday (Feb. 16) on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New
Jersey.

With supporters imploring lawmakers to make history, the lower house
passed the bill after hours of debate on a day that began with protests and
prayer vigils under gloomy skies outside the Statehouse.

"Without question, this is a historic day in the state of New Jersey,"
said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who, along with Senate President Stephen
Sweeney, a fellow Democrat, made the measure a top priority.

The Senate, which failed to pass a gay marriage bill two years ago, easily
approved it Monday. The governor's office would not say when Christie
would respond.

Thursday's 42-33 tally did not include a single Republican vote, and two
Democrats voted no.

Gay rights activists were joyous after the vote, vowing they'd fight to
overturn Christie's expected veto -- and saying it bolsters a gay marriage
court challenge in its early stages.

"We can always say for the rest of our lives we passed a marriage equality
bill in New Jersey," said Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights
advocacy group Garden State Equality. "This shows legislative intent to the
court. After today, no one can doubt that the Legislature of the state of New
Jersey wants marriage equality."

It will be tough, however, to overturn Christie's expected veto.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a sponsor of the bill and one of two openly gay
lawmakers, said supporters have until the legislative session ends in January 2014
to garner the nearly dozen more votes needed to override. He said it had won
nearly 10 Assembly votes in recent weeks.

In Thursday's debate, several lawmakers, including Oliver, said they
initially opposed gay marriage or struggled with the decision because of
their religious beliefs.

Assemblyman Charles Mainor said he had believed voting yes would
emotionally harm children and force them into therapy. "I felt this way because I
was ignorant," he said. "And I was ignorant because I didn't educate myself."

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, a sponsor, said that as a former altar boy at
an urban Catholic parish, "this road wasn't very easy to get to."

Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, a deaconess in her church, said she also struggled
over her decision. "In my final hours, I came to the conclusion that the people sent me from
my district here to vote for what was right and to protect all the people
... regardless of their gender, race, religion or sexual preference," she
said. "This bill today is not a religious issue. It's a civil rights issue."

Republicans opposing the bill said the vote on gay marriage belongs to New
Jersey residents -- as Christie has urged -- rather than the lawmakers and
the governor.

"Who should be the ultimate judge on deciding this issue? Should it be the
121 of us in Trenton? Or should we let the people of New Jersey decide?"
said Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz. "I trust the people of New Jersey and
believe that they should be allowed to voice their opinion for a vote."

Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose questioned Democrats' priorities in
making this bill their first of the new session when New Jerseyans are
complaining about high unemployment, property taxes and big government.

"Send a message about your priorities and reject this legislation, and
let's get back to the real issues facing struggling families," she said.
"Vote no today and let's move forward."

Before the vote, more than 50 gay marriage opponents -- most dressed in
red -- marched outside the Statehouse, holding signs that said "Let the
people decide." Several pastors led them in prayer. Supporters of the bill, many
dressed in blue T-shirts bearing the word "Equality," packed the Assembly
gallery and later held a victory rally at a hotel near the Statehouse.

Gay marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia. A new
Washington state law will take effect in June.