New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Marriage Equality Bill

rsz_articlelargeOn Monday, December 7, New Jersey’s Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would allow gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. The bill, which passed in a 7-6 vote, will be voted on by the full Senate on Thursday. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the legislation by a vote of 7-6 after nearly eight hours of debate and testimony that was at times emotional and eloquent.

The approved bill included an amendment intended to clarify that religious organizations would never be forced to sanction or participate in a marriage they disagreed with.

Advocates for same-sex marriage hope New Jersey will change the recent nationwide momentum on the issue. Last week, the New York state Senate rejected a same-sex marriage bill; last month, Maine voters overturned a law to allow such marriages.

Activists on both sides of the issue packed a Trenton committee room, forming a line that extended out the door. More than 150 people signed up to testify.

Among those who spoke were the chairman of the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; a state lawmaker from Vermont; members of clergy both for and against the bill; a gay high school sophomore who said he felt like a second-class citizen in New Jersey; and gays and lesbians who testified that the state's civil-unions law has failed to offer them the same protections as marriage.

Bloomberg reports that while Governor Jon Corzine signed a law for civil unions for gay and lesbian couples back in 2006, many LGBT advocates do not believe that is enough:

“If we win marriage equality, it would be the fulfillment of our American dream. It would mean equality,” said Steven Goldstein, head of Garden State Equality. “This is really our lives on the line.”

Proponents of the measure said the state’s current civil union law is inadequate because it doesn’t guarantee federal recognition of the arrangements. Hospitals, insurance companies and other out-of-state businesses regularly deny spousal rights to gay couples, Goldstein said.

With NJ’s new governor Chris Christie taking office next year, passing this bill now is crucial, given that Christie has vowed to veto any marriage equality bill that comes across his desk. The New York Times wrote:

Passage of the bill, considered a fait accompli by many legislators as recently as October, has been in jeopardy since Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat who supports gay marriage, was defeated in the election last month. That loss rattled some Democratic legislators who began to worry about riling religious and social conservatives by supporting a controversial social measure at a time of economic distress.

Mr. Corzine, who pledged to sign a same-sex marriage bill, will be succeeded by Christopher J. Christie, an opponent. So advocates have been pushing furiously to win approval of the bill before the transfer of power on Jan. 19, and some lawmakers said the size and exuberance of the crowd of spectators at the State House was unlike anything they had seen since a fight over banning assault weapons in the early 1990s.

GLAAD will continue to monitor this issue and provide updates.

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