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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in New Jersey via the Legislature

2012-FEB to now: Senator Sweeney critical of veto.
New polling data. Attempt to hold referendum.
Attempt to override veto.

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In this essay:
"SSM" refers to same-sex marriage;
LGBT refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons

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This is a continuation from an earlier essay

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2012-FEB-25: State Senate President Stephen Sweeney repeats criticism of veto:

Senator Sweeney (D) criticized Governor Chris Christie (R) for placing "his feet firmly on the wrong side of history" by vetoing the a Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act, which would have:

  • Legalized same sex marriage in New Jersey.

  • Protected conservative religious groups so that they could continue to discriminate against lesbians, gays & bisexuals with impunity.

  • Given liberal religious groups the freedom to marry same-sex couples if they wish.

Sweeney continued:

"Anyone who is a student of history knows that you never, ever put the rights of the minority up for a vote of the majority; the majority will almost always vote it down. Not only was Governor Christie clearly ignorant of history on this issue, but his newfound sense of populism (the governor never seems to ask for a public referendum on any other issue) was also a way to relieve his Republican colleagues in the Legislature of their duty to serve the people. ... I know many of my Republican colleagues believe marriage equality is the right thing. Unfortunately, Governor Christie has put political pressure on them to keep them from voting how they wish. I know we can change their mind. I know they are good people who want to do the right thing. And I know that in the end what is right and fair will ultimately win out. ... He simply cannot stop the tide of fairness and equality that is rising not just in New Jersey but across the country. We are going to get this done." 1

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2012-FEB-26 to DEC: Further developments:

No significant changes were been reported.

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2012-DEC-05: Public Policy Polling reveals data from latest poll:

On 2012-DEC-05, PPP announced their latest poll of New Jersey voters concerning same-sex marriage:

  • 53% support SSM while 36% are in opposition for a margin of 17 percentage points. 12% are undecided or didn't answer.

  • 72% support having voters decide whether to legalize SSM; 16% disagree; 12% are undecided or didn't answer. 2

With a margin of 17 percentage points in 2012-DEC, which is likely to enlarge by 2 percentage points or more by the end of 2012, a referendum on SSM would be likely to pass, even if countered by multiple millions of dollars of fear-based misinformation in TV ads.

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2012-DEC-09: Proposal for a voter referendum:

Assemblyperson Reed Gusciora (D) introduced bill S3611 that would authorize a referendum to allow voters to either approve or deny marriage equality in New Jersey. Governor Chris Christie (R), who opposes same-sex marriage, said in February that he would support such a referendum. Gusciora said: "This [bill] is exactly what the governor wants."

Most Democrats in the Senate and marriage-equality supporters are opposed to the bill because they believe on principle that same-sex marriage is a matter of civil rights . Thus it should not be subject to a public vote.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D) said:

"The majority of people should not be ruling on the rights of the minority." 3

She also said that the legislature is "... within striking distance" of a two-thirds majority that would be needed to override Governor Christie's 2012-FEB veto. The legislature has until 2014-JAN to attempt an override.

She predicts that the bill to overturn the veto would be introduced after the state's June primary.

Some also expect that the referendum would fail. Senator Raymond Lesniak (D), a co-sponsors of SSM bill said that in 2013:

"... there are two governors’ races and that’s it -- in New Jersey and Virginia. There will be tens of millions of dollars coming in from right-wing groups ... with all kinds of distorted messages, not only about same-sex marriage, but about homosexuality itself. It’s a very dangerous course to proceed."

The National Organization for Marriage, which is the leading national group opposing marriage equality, is attempting to raise $30 million during 2013. This is twice the amount they raised in 2012. However, their task is becoming increasingly difficult as national polls show that support for SSM is steadily increasing while opposition is steadily decreasing among American adults and a poll showed that 72% of American adults believe that SSM in all 50 states is inevitable.

Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, the leading group promoting marriage equality said:

With Chris Christie at the top of the ticket, [and with New Jersey sandwiched between the big New York and Philadelphia media markets], that makes a referendum in New Jersey an entirely different ball game. ... If the assemblyman wants to do his own thing ... then God bless him, but I would imagine the leaders of the Legislature would consider his efforts dead on arrival."

Gusciora explained that he had originally opposed a referendum, but was convinced by his constituents to change his position as a result of the three plebiscites during 2012-NOV in Maine, Maryland and Washington State that authorized SSM in those states.

Gusciora said:

"I am the last person who believes civil rights should be on the ballot, but civil rights delayed is civil rights denied. The timing is right. There is broader acceptance." 3

If a referendum is not authorized by the Legislature, there appear to be two paths remaining either of which may produce marriage equality:

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2013-MAR-26: New polling data on SSM from Quinnipiac University:

Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,129 registered voters between 2013-MAR-19 to 24. The margin of error is ±2.9 percentage points. The results were truly remarkable:

By more than a 2 to 1 ratio, New Jersey voters support a law allowing same-sex couples to marry. Results were 64% in favor, 30% opposed. This is one of the highest degree of support that we have seen of any state -- if not the highest.

Men support SSM 60%; opposition is 32%.

Women support SSM 68% to 28% -- a ratio of 2.4 times!

Young adults, aged 18 to 34 support SSM 80% to 17%. That is the highest level of support, and the lowest level of opposition, that we have seen of any state.

Even older voters, aged 56 to 80 support SSM 56% to 38%.

Among Democrats, support is 77% vs. 20% opposition. Among Republicans, it is 47% to 46%. This is the first poll in which we recall a plurality of Republicans favor SSM. However, the margin is not statistically significant because it is well within the margin of error.

SSM is currently at a stalemate in New Jersey: the Legislature has passed a bill to legalize it. Governor Chris Christie has vetoed it. The legislators are scrambling to find enough support to override the governor's veto.

One option, proposed by Governor Christie, is to hold a referendum. The voters are overwhelmingly in favor of this route: 72% support a referendum; 22% are opposed -- a ratio of over 3 to 1. Support for the idea has been increasing, and opposition decreasing over the previous year. 4 With this level of support, it would almost certainly pass. Still, many supporters of SSM feel that same-sex marriages should be authorized by legislatures or courts, and not be subjected to the "tyranny of the majority" via a referendum. Ultimately SSM will either come to New Jersey or be turned down as a result of a bunch of people voting for or against SSM. It may be voters, legislators, judges, or Supreme Court justices voting. But it will be a vote.

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2013-JUL-03: Attempt to override the Governor's veto:

On JUN-26, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. This was the key section of the DOMA bill that had prohibited the federal government from recognizing legal, registered same-sex marriages. It had denied all same-sex married couples benefits, and protections from 1,138 federal programs that are routinely made available to opposite-sex couples. These programs include bankruptcy, federal student aid, federal employee benefits, family medical leave act, immigration, medicaid, medicare, military spousal benefits, private employment benefits, social security, supplemental security income, taxes, temporary assistance for needy families, veteran spousal benefits. However, loving, committed same-sex couples in New Jersey cannot benefit from these programs because they are unable to marry. They can only enter civil unions.

Senate President, Stephen Sweeney (D) announced that a vote will be held soon to attempt to override Governor Christie's (R) veto. They need to obtain three more votes in favor of SSM in the Senate and twelve more in the Assembly. Sweeney notes that some republican legislators have privately admitted that they would like to vote in favor of SSM but that they felt intimidated by the Governor. Governor Christie rejected that suggestion, saying that he only gives advice to legislators but he is "not the one down there pushing the buttons." reported:

"Sweeney said some Republicans — he wouldn’t name them — have conceded to him that the DOMA ruling was 'a game-changer,' but they’re unwilling to cross Christie. Sweeney said he wouldn’t discuss his conversations with the two Democrats who voted against the bill last year, Sens. Ron Rice (D-Essex) and Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May).

'For anyone who needs cover on this, they have it now,' said [Senator Barbara] Buono [D]. 'The Supreme Court said it’s unconstitutional. I think it’s very sad that legislators are being intimidated by this governor from voting their conscience.'

Christie, she said, is the only obstacle left.

'This is a governor, one man in New Jersey, that stands in the way of marriage equality,' she said, 'one man who is saying that their love is just not as good as everyone else’s'."

Governor Christie suggest that a referendum be held to allow voters to settle the question. He said:

"I’m tired of hearing the politics from folks like Senator Sweeney who all of a sudden now has gotten, you know, a conscience on this and is pontificating. If you want to change the core of a 2,000-year-old institution, the way to do that is to put it in front of the voters in the state of New Jersey and let them vote. And whatever they decide, I will be governed by." 5

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2013-JUL-25: Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders wants Governor's veto overridden:

The Board passed a resolution asking for the state Senate and Assembly to override the governor's veto of Bill A=1, the Marriage Equality Bill. It also calls on the other 20 counties in New Jersey to support marriage equality.

State Senator Ray Lesniak (D), the primary sponsor of the Bill, said:

"Our Founding Fathers declared that ‘all men are created equal,’ but it is up to each generation to ensure that this declaration of principle is reflected in the law of the land. The Marriage Equality Bill is consistent with the recent Supreme Court ruling, and it should become law in New Jersey." 6

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2013-SEP-27: Decision by Superior Court may affect the attempt to override Governor Christies' veto:

Kate Zernike and Marc Santora of the New York Times described a ruling by Judge Mary C. Jacobson of the State Superior Court in Mercer County. The case is "Garden State Equality v. Dow" and was filed by six same-sex couples on behalf of themselves and their children. They seek marriage equality in New Jersey, which would give them access to the 1,138 federal benefits and protections that are only available to married couples. Zernike & Santora wrote that Judge Jacobson :

"... ruled on Friday that the state must allow same-sex couples to marry, saying that not doing so deprives them of rights that were guaranteed by the United States Supreme Court in June.

It is the first time a court has struck down a state’s refusal to legalize same-sex marriage as a direct result of the Supreme Court [DOMA] ruling, ... With lawsuits pending in other states, it could presage other successful challenges across the country." 7

Judge Jacobson had ruled:

"The ineligibility of same-sex couples for [1,138] federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts. Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution." 7,8

According to an almost instant reaction by the Governor's office, her ruling will be appealed. That will probably result in a stay of Judge Jacobson's ruling, so that same-sex couples will not be able to marry as of 2013-OCT-21 as her ruling ordered. However, the ruling may sway the opinions of a sufficient number of state legislators that Governor Chris Christie's veto might be overruled by the Legislature.

More details on Judge Jacobson's decision.

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More developments expected

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Eric W. Dolan, "N.J. Senate President: Gov. Christie cannot stop rising tide of equality," The Raw Story, 2012-FEB-26, at:
  2. "Illinois and New Jersey support gay marriage" Public Policy Polling, 2012-DEC-05, at:
  3. Susan K. Livio, "N.J. lawmaker introduces bill asking voters to decide gay marriage rights,", 2012-DEC-10, at:
  4. "Release Detail," Quinnipiac University, 2013-MAR-26, at:
  5. Salvador Rizzo, "N.J. Democrats press Republicans to 'vote their conscience' on gay marriage,", 2013-JUL-02, at:
  6. Barbara Rybolt, "Mayors react to Union County Freeholders' support of Marriage Equality Bill," The Times, 2013-AUG-01, at:
  7. Kate Zernike & Marc Santora, "Judge Orders New Jersey to Allow Gay Marriage," New York Times, 2013-SEP-27, at:
  8. Decision on motion for summary judgment, Docket No. L-1729-11, New York Times, 2013-SEP-27, at:

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Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > SSM Menu > New Jersey > here

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Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2012-FEB-18.
Latest update: 2013-SEP-29.
Author: B.A. Robinson

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