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Gay Marriage Is Dems Top Priority [VIDEO/POLL]

Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media

As Townsquare Media News first reported yesterday, Democratic leaders in the Senate & Assembly today said  that legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey is a top priority and it will be put on the fast-track in 2012.

Senator Steve Sweeney
Kevin McArdle/Townsquare Media NJ

The bill failed in the Senate two years ago. But Senate President Steve Sweeney, who didn’t vote for it then and has regretted it since, says he’ll work diligently to correct the mistake. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver says her house is fully on board.

Democrats don’t enjoy veto-proof majorities in either house. So Christie could ignore the bill if it reaches his desk, which would allow it to become law without his signature.

DESIGNATION “S-1″ HAS MEANING

Designating the same-sex marriage legislation as S-1 has real significance because it sends the message that the measure is the top issue. State Senate President Steve Sweeney seeks to “right a wrong” by not voting the last time the issue came up for a vote. It has been designated A1 in the Assembly.

“This is about doing what’s right and ensuring full equal and civil rights for all New Jerseyans,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “Two years ago, I made a mistake in abstaining on marriage equality – a mistake that means same-sex couples continue to be denied the very basic civil right to live their lives as they wish. But today isn’t about me correcting my mistake, it’s about correcting a mistake for thousands of loving couples across the state who want nothing more than to be treated equally as their neighbors.”

“Marriage equality is a concept whose time has simply come in New Jersey,” said Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Devoted same-sex couples all across New Jersey are raising families and rebuilding communities, yet can’t call their relationships what they really are, a marriage. If love is said to be blind, then so must the state in recognizing that all people should have a right to marry. We must correct an injustice that has hurt far too many loving couples for far too long. This fight is about civil law and civil rights, nothing more and nothing less.”

Rush Holt
Rush Holt (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

In a joint statement, New Jersey’s Democrats in Washington said, “New Jersey has a proud history of civil rights leadership, and we must continue our role in pursuing fairness and equality,” the members wrote. “Other states with a combined population of more than 35 million people already have marriage equality – including our next door neighbor, New York. The marriage equality bill in the New Jersey legislature needs your support.” Congressman Rush Holt was at today’s press conference.

In anticipation of today’s formal introduction of the legislation, Garden State Equality chairman and CEO, Steven Goldstein said, “We are simply elated that Senate President Steve Sweeney is not only a supporter of marriage equality now, he’s leading the way on the new marriage equality bill.”

The Senate insiders say that in 2009 and 2010 Democrats failed because they didn’t frame their argument well enough. They insist that this time around they will explain that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue, not a political issue or a religious issue. Then-Governor Jon Corzine said he would’ve signed the bill into law if the legislature would’ve passed it.

CHRISTIE “NOT A FAN”

Steven Goldstein, Chair and CEO of Garden State Equality
Steven Goldstein, Chair and CEO of Garden State Equality (Garden State Equality)

Governor Chris Christie is on record saying he’s, “not a fan” of same-sex marriage and he wouldn’t support it. Democratic sources say, “We’re not asking for the Governor’s permission and we’re not backing down or backing off.” They are hopeful Christie will read the bill and understand it as a civil rights issue. They feel if that happens he would see it makes no sense for him to block it.

“We think it has enough votes to pass,” says Goldstein. “Do we think the Governor will veto it? Of course the Governor is going to veto it, but let’s take one step at a time….For right now we’re looking to pass the bill and when that happens that in itself will be tremendous progress to the marriage equality movement in New Jersey.”

Christie campaigned yesterday in New Hampshire for GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney who openly opposes gay marriage, but supports ‘partnership agreements.’ The New Hampshire legisalture is expected to vote soon whether to repeal a 2009 gay marriage law. Romney recently told a voter there that he supports the repeal effort. “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” he told the voter, who turned out to be a gay veteran.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora

Gusciora says Democratic leaders in the Assembly are on board and “committed” to the issue. The bill is being re-introduced first in the Senate because that’s where it failed in 2010. The Assembly did not post the bill for a vote once it was rejected in the Upper House. The sources say Sweeney, Weinberg and Lesniak are hopeful the new bill can quickly move out of committee and be posted for a vote in the full Senate as early as next month.

Listen to extended audio with Assemblyman Reed Gusciora:

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Gusciora says, “There’s a commitment from leadership of both houses to move this early, get this out of the way and continue on with job creating measures in the state.”

DEMOCRATS CONFIDENT THEY HAVE THE VOTES TO PASS

Confidence is high within the Democratic Party that there are enough votes to pass the legislation in both houses possibly with bi-partisan support. They hope Republican members will support the bill because they claim (but cannot confirm) that nationally, not one legislator has ever lost a seat after voting “yes” for same-sex marriage

The proposed measure is permissive in that it doesn’t require churches to perform gay weddings if they are opposed to them. They would not be required to rent out their facilities for such events either.

Many people feel Governor Christie will not sign a same-marriage bill if one passes the legislature and lands on his desk. Widespread opinion is that he would veto such a measure, but there is a third option. Christie doesn’t have what is called “pocket veto” authority. If he simply ignores the bill for 45 days it would automatically become law. Christie would not be on record as supporting or rejecting the legislation.

If the measure passes the legislature and Christie does veto it, it would take 27 Senators and 54 Assembly members to override that veto. That means 3 GOP Senators and 5 GOP Assembly members would have to defy the Republican Governor. Democrats claim to believe that’s not impossible.

New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont are the only six states that currently allow same-sex marriage. It’s also legal in the District of Columbia.

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