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NJ lawmakers defeat marriage bill

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Thursday Jan 7, 2010
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The New Jersey State Senate today voted 14-20 against a bill that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry in the Garden State.

Applause broke out inside the Senate chamber once the vote took place, but a number of proponents made impassioned and even emotional speeches in support of the measure. Sponsor Loretta Weinberg [D-Teaneck] evoked her late-husband of nearly 40 years as she urged her fellow lawmakers to support the bill.

"Men and women don’t have a monopoly on loving relationships," she said.

State Sen. Brian Baroni [R-Hamilton] maintained the Garden State’s civil unions law continues to relegate gays and lesbians to second class status.

"Separate but equal was wrong in 1954, it is wrong today," Baroni said. "Separate but equal can certainly be separate, but it can never be equal; and unequal treatment by government is always, always wrong."

Senate President Dick Codey [D-Edison] further evoked the civil rights movement of the 1960s in his support of the bill. State Sen. Nia Gill [D-Montclair] highlighted Loving vs. Virginia as she testified passionately for the measure, but state Sen. Gerald Cardinale [R-Demarest] maintained lawmakers should remedy the many problems he contend remain with New Jersey’s civil unions law; and not pass a marriage bill.

"I heard nothing that cannot be fixed about the problems that were presented to us by folks who are in civil unions relationships," Cardinale said. "There are many problems, but for those many problems there are a solution if we put our minds to it; there are many solutions without putting violence against marriage."

State Sen. Barbara Buono [D-Metuchen] disagreed.

"We have an opportunity today to correct an injustice," she said.

Today’s vote comes less than a week after same-sex couples began to marry in New Hampshire and a month after lawmakers in the District of Columbia backed a bill to allow marriage in the nation’s capital. New Jersey activists scored a legislative victory of sorts with the vote itself, but it represents the latest setback in the push to secure marriage for gays and lesbians around the country.

Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality announced minutes after lawmakers defeated the measure both his organization and Lambda Legal will fight for marriage in court.

"With today’s vote in the state Senate, the New Jersey legislature defaulted on its constitutional obligation to provide same-sex couples in New Jersey equal protection, as unanimously mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2006," he said.

Goldstein refused to confirm or deny to EDGE earlier today whether he thought the measure had enough votes to pass. It appears likely, however, outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine’s defeat last November played a significant role in the outcome of the vote.

Corzine himself categorized the vote as "squarely on the wrong side of history." Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, echoed Goldstein’s vow to fight for marriage in court.

"The requirement to ensure equality for same-sex couples, established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in its decision in our marriage lawsuit in 2006, has not been met," he said. "There is enormous, heartbreaking evidence that civil unions are not equal to marriage, and we will be going back to the courts in New Jersey to fight for equality. Too many families are at risk. We cannot wait any longer."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.

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