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Topics In the News
New Jersey Marriage Equality Battle
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 01/09/12
Last updated on: 01/13/12
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Governor Chris Christie.

New Jersey Democratic lawmakers announced at a news conference on January 9, 2011 that they will introduce legislation authorizing same-sex marriage. The bill will be the first measure introduced in the new session of the Senate and the Assembly. If passed, it may create a dilemma for Republican Governor Chris Christie, who opposes same-sex marriage.

Prospects for passing the bill in the legislature are good. Both houses are controlled by the Democrats and the leadership is now unified in support of the measure.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney is now a supporter of the legislation. In 2010, he abstained when a similar bill was voted down by the Legislature, a decision he later said he regretted more than any other in his career.

The bill is also supported by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.

In this clip Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Oliver speak of their positions.

However, Governor Christie has said in the past that he opposes same-sex marriage. It is unlikely that the Democrats could muster a two-thirds majority to override a veto should the Governor decide to exercise one.

It may be, as Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin has suggested, that the Democrats are using gay marriage as a "wedge issue," designed to distinguish Democrats from Republicans.

In any case, passage of the bill will create a dilemma for Governor Christie, who has ambitions in national Republican politics and has frequently been mentioned as a likely Vice Presidential choice.

In this clip from an appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan's show, Governor Christie explains his opposition to same-sex marriage:

Christie is unlikely to sign the bill. However, the bill could become law without his signature if he fails to veto it within 45 days of its passage.

Although the Governor has announced his opposition to same-sex marriage, he has in the past shown some independence from social conservatives in the Republican party. It is thus not beyond the realm of possibility that he might allow same-sex marriage to become law without his signature.

In 2006, New Jersey established civil unions that ostensibly provide all the rights and responsibilities of marriage. The legislature acted after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously "our State Constitution guarantees that every statutory right and benefit conferred to heterosexual couples through civil marriage must be made available to committed same-sex couples."

Although three of the court's seven members argued that the court should simply mandate same-sex marriage, the majority decision left it to the state legislature to determine whether to adopt civil unions or marriage as the proper remedy.

In 2010, following the defeat of a marriage bill in the legislature, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which had argued the 2006 case, went back to court alleging that the civil unions remedy was inadequate, arguing that civil unions did not in reality confer equal rights to gay and lesbian couples.

In November 2011, Superior Court Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg granted Lambda Legal the right to proceed with their case over the objections of the state Attorney General. A court date has not been set.

"I don't think that the court can remain silent and take no action if the result is that those benefits are not equal in the protections," Judge Feinberg said.

Governor Christie could save New Jersey the cost of an expensive legal battle by simply allowing a gay marriage bill to become law without his signature.

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