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Assembly Democrats: Governor Lets His Own Ideology Stand in the Way of True Equality for Thousands of New Jerseyans

Assembly Democratic sponsors of the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act expressed their disappointment over Governor Christie’s conditional veto of the measure, which creates an added layer of bureaucracy while still maintaining a “separate but equal” system for same-sex couples in New Jersey.

The bill (S-1/A-1), which passed the Assembly by a vote of 42-33 and the Senate by a vote of 24-16, would have defined marriage as the legally recognized union of two consenting people in a committed relationship, eliminating the civil unions that had been in place since 2007, but have failed to provide equal treatment to New Jersey’s same-sex couples.

The sponsors of the historic legislation – Reed Gusciora, Speaker Sheila Oliver, Connie Wagner, Mila Jasey, John McKeon, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Jason O’Donnell, Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski and Timothy Eustace – also vowed to continue fighting for true equality.

“It’s unfortunate that the Governor would let his own personal ideology infringe on the rights of thousands of New Jerseyans,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “For all those who oppose marriage equality, their lives would have been completely unchanged by this bill, but for same-sex couples, their lives would have been radically transformed. Unfortunately, the Governor couldn’t see past his own personal ambitions to honor this truth.”

“This has, and always will be, a civil rights issue,” said Oliver (D-Essex). “When we look back in the annals of history, unfortunately, the Governor will see that he was on the wrong side of justice. All the couples disappointed by his action today should take solace in the fact that we are not giving up this fight.”

“This is a categorical disappointment, both the Governor’s quick veto and his dismissive attitude this week about the importance of this bill,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “Perhaps if he had taken a circumspect moment to think about how this measure would profoundly affect the lives of so many in our state, he might have acted differently.”

“Sadly, the Governor has chosen to set us back rather than propelling us forward,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “With Washington enacting marriage equality this week and Maryland on its way to doing the same, the Governor will eventually find himself playing ‘follow the leader’ rather than being a leader.”

“While this move isn’t surprising, it’s no more palatable,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “For a Governor who likes to tout his ‘bipartisan credentials’ on the national stage, it’s beyond disappointing that he would refuse to yield on such an important civil rights issue.”

“It’s truly saddening that the personal beliefs of one person in this state have trumped the personal freedoms of thousands,” said Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “True leadership is not about appealing to the conservative masses; it’s about standing up for those who have been marginalized by the masses.”

“Seven states, plus the District of Columbia, now allow same-sex marriage,” said O’Donnell (D-Hudson). “Despite the cries from detractors, this is not some avant-garde movement that hasn’t been vetted or has shown negative consequences. This is about civil rights progress in the 21st century.”

“In our history as a nation, our shining moments were when our leaders stood up for the civil rights of our citizens and our shame was when our leaders stood in the way,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “Sadly, our Governor has chosen to stand in the way, but I remain confident that our day will come.”

“The Governor’s conditional veto makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he does not think my family, and thousands of others, are equal in the eyes of the law,” said Eustace (D-Bergen). “The historic victory we achieved legislatively is bittersweet, but it will also spur advocates to continue to fight the good fight until true equality is achieved.”

The legislation would have also expressly stipulated that no clergy of any religion authorized to solemnize marriage, nor any religious society, institution or organization in the state, would be required to conduct any marriage in violation of their free exercise of religion.

The sponsors noted that with Washington State enacting marriage equality on Monday, seven states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex couples to marry.