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NJ Senate Pres. Steve Sweeney: Not Voting for Marriage Equality "The Biggest Mistake of My Legislative Career"

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On Monday, as advocates for marriage equality continued to eagerly await whether New York will become the nation's sixth state to legally allow marriage for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples, yet another former opponent of marriage equality, in neighboring New Jersey, announced a change of heart on the matter.

Last week's remarkable change of heart on marriage equality came from New York state Sen. Roy McDonald (R-Saratoga), the second of two Republicans, in as many days, to announce that he will now be voting "yes" in support of marriage equality legislation.  (The other Republican New York senator was Sen. James Alesi (R-Monroe).)

Today's change of heart comes from none other than New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney. Second to only Gov. Chris Christie as New Jersey's most powerful leader, Sweeney (D-Gloucester) voted against proposed marriage equality legislation in January 2010.  On the floor of the state Senate today, Sen. Sweeney apologized for his abstention (the equivalent of a "no" vote in the New Jersey legislature), calling it "the biggest mistake of my legislative career."

Here are Sen. Sweeney's remarks in their entirety:

"Seventeen months ago, I stood up here and made the biggest mistake of my legislative career.  I made a decision based purely on political calculations not to vote in support of marriage equality.  I failed, in my responsibility as majority leader of this house, to actually lead.  I was wrong.  To my fellow colleagues, to staff and to those watching upstairs, let me tell you: never, ever again will I allow that to happen.  The time for political calculations is over."

Steven Goldstein, the chair & CEO of Garden State Equality, New Jersey's statewide LGBT-advocacy organization, heralded Sen. Sweeney's remarks.

"The world evolves, and our responsibility as advocates is not to hold grudges, but to pass laws," said Goldstein.  We welcome Senate President Sweeney's support with open arms."

In less than one week, at least three (2 in NY, 1 in NJ) former opponents of marriage equality have proven, quite powerfully, that hearts and minds do change.

Though the Garden State already offers civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, Goldstein now says there are enough votes to pass marriage equality legislation in both houses of the New Jersey legislature.  He is less certain that there are enough votes to override Gov. Christie's likely veto.

"It means we'll have to win marriage equality in New Jersey through another means," said Goldstein.  "Stay tuned for an announcement very, very soon."

GLAAD appreciates Sen. Sweeney's newfound support of marriage equality, and we look forward to the day when all loving and committed couples - in New Jersey, New York, everywhere - are able to get married, and thus take care of and be responsible for each other.