by Hank Kalet, NJSpotlight.com
The success of marriage-equality ballot initiatives in three states on Tuesday demonstrates that voters are growing more accepting, but should not be used as models for legalization in New Jersey, supporters of same-sex marriage believe.
Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved referendum questions Tuesday that made it legal for same-sex couples to marry in those states. They were the first such referendum questions to be approved in the nation, after 30 previous ballot initiatives around the country either banned same-sex marriage or reinforced existing bans.
Supporters of marriage equality in New Jersey, including Garden State Equality and the sponsors of bills that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state, say it is a civil-rights and constitutional issue and that it is the responsibility of the Legislature, governor and courts to expand and protect minority rights.
Supporters want the Legislature to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of Senate Bill S1, which would legalize same-sex marriage.
“I am thrilled for those states, but this is where the Legislature has a responsibility,” said Senate President Steven Sweeney (D-Gloucester). “We’re going to push to get it done. Civil rights does not belong on the ballot.”
The legislation passed both houses of the state Legislature on Feb. 16 – by a vote 42-33 in the Assembly, with four Democrats voting no and a fifth not voting, and by a 24-16 margin in the Senate, with two Democrats voting no and two Republicans voting yes. It was conditionally vetoed by the governor five days later.
The bill would redefine marriage in state law as “the legally recognized union of two consenting persons in a committed relationship,” while exempting religious institutions and clergy from having to perform same-sex marriages.
The governor, who has in the past stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, said in his veto statement that legalization is “a profoundly significant societal change” and that the legislation essentially amended the state constitution, which only can be amended by a vote in a public referendum.
“I have repeatedly encouraged, and continue to ask that, the Legislature trust the people of New Jersey and seek their input by allowing our citizens to vote on the question of same-sex marriage,” he said in the statement. “This path of amending the State Constitution, which embraces our most cherished democratic ideals and is enshrined in our guiding legal document, is the only way to amend our Constitution and the best way to resolve the issue of same-sex marriage in our State.”
Following the veto, state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset) introduced a constitutional amendment that would put the fate of marriage equality before voters.
Same-sex marriage advocates, who were critical of the governor at the time, remain opposed to placing legalization on the ballot.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of the civil rights group Garden State Equality, which has been advocating for marriage equality, said in a statement on the group’s Facebook page that “one can celebrate the victories in (Tuesday’s) referenda” and still oppose putting marriage equality on the ballot because “the majority should never vote on the civil rights of a minority, period.”