The New Jersey state Assembly passed a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples on Thursday, after the Senate approved the measure earlier in the week.
At 4:45 p.m. the Assembly voted to pass the bill by a narrow 42-33, giving it just enough votes to pass out of the 80 member chamber, but not enough to overcome a promised veto by Gov. Chris Christie. The tally was initially announced as a 41-33 vote with one abstention, but shortly after the vote, the tally was updated, with the error blamed on a “stuck button,” according to one source who was in the State House at the time.
“I think it’s a giant step forward,” said Marc Solomon, Freedom to Marry’s national campaign director. “The Senate in New Jersey voted two years ago and defeated a marriage bill pretty overwhelmingly, and now today passed in the Senate and the Assembly… and that is a significant step forward.”
In what was expected to be a close vote on Monday, the New Jersey Senate handily passed the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act — known as S1 — by a 24-16 margin.
In order to overcome a veto, the Senate will need to find an additional three votes in favor, as a two-thirds majority of the 40-member chamber is 27. In the 80-member New Jersey General Assembly, 54 votes in favor would be needed to overcome a governor’s veto, which leaves marriage supporters with the job of flipping or finding 12 additional votes in that chamber in 23 months.
The legislature would have until the end of this legislative session on Jan. 18, 2014 to override Christie’s veto. Advocates are cautiously optimistic that this is possible.
Sources at the vote report only Democrats voted in favor of the bill in New Jersey, after heavy campaigning from the governor.
“It still passed with not just the aversion of the governor, but with the active arm twisting of the governor to get Republicans to vote against the bill,” Solomon told the Blade minutes after the Thursday afternoon vote. “There are Republicans who support the freedom to marry in the Assembly, but unfortunately the governor really twisted arms.”
Cristie has advocated in favor of taking the question to voters through a ballot measure, something that has angered LGBT advocates and civil rights veterans alike. Last month Georgia Congressman John Lewis lashed out at Christie for a statement he made implying that civil rights leaders would have rather had civil rights issues sent to popular vote rather than making advances through legislation and litigation.
ThinkProgress reports that after she signed a bill legalizing gender neutral marriage in Washington, Gov. Christine Gregoire sent a letter to Christie encouraging him to do the same.
“If two men want to fall in love and get married, or two women, it’s their business,” said Lewis, according to the Advocate. “It’s not the role of the federal government or the state government to intervene. It’s a question of human dignity, a question of human rights. I think the day will come in New Jersey and all across our country when we will look back on this period and say, ‘We were just silly. We were just foolish.’”
Same-sex marriage activists, including Solomon, believe there is time to move lawmakers to their side by presenting them with compelling stories from real couples affected by legal discrimination.
“We will sit down immediately and look at the lists and see who the persuadable lawmakers are,” Solomon said. “My own experience is as we put forward the really smart field effort to mobilize married couples who deserve to get married and share their stories with lawmakers, we’re going to get those lawmakers.”
“People only move one way on this issue, and it’s our way.”
University of California Los Angeles-based LGBT think tank, the Williams Institute, estimates that 16,875 same-sex couples live in New Jersey, with nearly 3,000 of those couples raising an estimated 6,650 total children. New Jersey is likely to generate $48 to $119 million for the state economy in same-sex wedding-related business if the bill passes, according to the think tank. It said that 4,447 of the nearly 17,000 same-sex couples in the Garden State already identify one another as “spouses.”
On Jan. 7, 2010, a bill calling for the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples failed in the New Jersey Senate on a vote of 14-20. Senate leadership has since become much more involved in pressuring the chamber in favor of the bill, with a greater emphasis on lobbying the 24 Democrats and 16 Republicans than ever before.