All nine members of the Democratic congressional delegation from New Jersey have signed a letter urging their colleagues in the state legislature to support the marriage equality bill being introduced this week.
“We, the entire Democratic membership of the New Jersey Congressional delegation, urge you to support the marriage equality bill being introduced by the Democratic leadership in the state Senate and Assembly, along with many sponsors,” says the letter dated January 6 and addressed to Democratic lawmakers in the state senate and assembly.
“New Jersey has a proud history of civil rights leadership, and we must continue our role in pursuing fairness and equality,” the letter continues. “Other states with a combined population of more than 35 million already have marriage equality – including our next door neighbor, New York.”
The letter is signed by U.S. senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both of whom support federal legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, and seven members of Congress. Together, they comprise 60% of the state’s 15-member delegation, which also includes six Republican representatives.
Democratic lawmakers plan to announce at a news conference Monday afternoon that they will introduce marriage equality legislation as the first bill of the new legislation session that begins Tuesday. The bill failed the Democratic-controlled senate by a 20 to 14 vote in 2010, but this time the bill will be prioritized by key lawmakers including senate president Steve Sweeney, who has called his failure to vote for the bill two years ago the biggest regret of his political career.
According to Garden State Equality, the statewide LGBT lobbying group, the backers of the bill include Sweeney, incoming senate majority leader Loretta Weinberg, assembly speaker Sheila Oliver, incoming assembly majority Leader Lou Greenwald, and state Democratic chairman assemblyman John Wisniewski. They will announce their support at a news conference from the state house in Trenton at 1 p.m.
“The days are over when marriage equality was the third rail of American politics,” said Garden State Equality chair Steven Goldstein in a statement that thanked colleagues at the national groups Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign. “Today, in a state and nation that supports marriage equality, not standing up for equality is the third rail for prejudice.”
Freedom to Marry national campaign director Marc Solomon said in a separate statement, “Freedom to Marry is proud to partner with Garden State Equality and New Jersey’s tremendous legislative leaders, Senate President Sweeney and House Speaker Oliver, as we work together to make New Jersey the next state to end the exclusion of gay couples from marriage. What New Jersey’s legislative leaders are telling us clearly today is that the Garden State values its gay and lesbian citizens fully, and does not accept treating same-sex couples and their families as second class citizens, as it presently does with civil unions. Marriage matters for same-sex couples and their families, both because it says we’re a family through thick and thin in a way that nothing else does, and because it provides a critical safety-net of protections that civil unions do not.”
If the sponsors succeed in passing the bill this session, they face the prospect of a vetoby Governor Chris Christie, a popular Republican with a national profile who opposes marriage equality. It is unclear whether the legislature would be able to muster the two-thirds majority required to override his veto.
New Jersey currently has a civil unions law passed in 2006 in response to a decision from the state’s high court. A state commission in 2008 found the law to be inadequate in providing equal protections for same-sex couples, something the Democratic congressional members also noted in their letter to the state legislature.
“It is important to note that New Jersey enacted the strongest possible civil union law in 2006,” stated the letter. “Therefore, it is not feasible to ‘fix’ the law short of providing marriage equality. The time has come to end discrimination in marriage. The marriage equality bill in the New Jersey legislature needs your support.”