Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington) delivered the following remarks on the floor of the General Assembly prior to the house’s historic 42-33 vote in favor of the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act (A-1):
“Thank you Madam Speaker. Over the past several months, the passion with which you have approached the issue of marriage equality is second only to the eloquence with which you make the case for this needed legislation.
“I want to begin my remarks by also thanking Assemblyman Gusciora, who has worked with great passion and even greater persistence to see this legislation through to today’s vote.
“And I would also like to thank one of our newest members, Assemblyman Eustace, who has sponsored this bill and who testified with his son before the Judiciary Committee. Your son’s testimony was truly from the heart, and as a father, I know you are proud of him. Your beautiful family, whom you love and cherish very much, has shown us just one example of the struggles that have affected so many families across the state because we do not have full marriage equality here in New Jersey.
“I would also like to thank Assemblyman Barnes who ran the Judiciary Committee hearing on this bill with unparalleled dignity and fairness.
“And thank you to all my colleagues, who have engaged in a passionate and most importantly civil debate. In today’s landscape of 30-second sound bites and petty political polarization, today’s thoughtful remarks respect the importance of the public policy debates on issues that affect so many families.
“And that is the key word that boils down this debate into its essence–families. This debate is not theoretical. This debate is not academic. It is not about sound bites. It is not about poll numbers, or pundits, or special interests. It is about families. And it is about our values.
“This debate today is about answering one simple question–is our Constitution worth the paper it is printed on? Will we provide the true equality under the law that all our families deserve? Or will we merely pay lip service to the principles enshrined in our Constitution while continuing to endorse a status quo that has completely and utterly failed to guarantee equality under the law?
“Let me be crystal clear: our Constitution means something. It means that every single American is entitled to equal protection under the law, regardless of their personal circumstances.
“Denying gays and lesbians the right to marry violates this fundamental value of our society–the right and expectation of every single one our citizens to be treated equally under the law. By any measure, civil unions have failed to live up to these fundamental values.
“That is why enacting marriage equality is about honoring the bedrock principles of our nation.
“Make no mistake: today we are casting a vote that will be written about in history books. Each and every one of us will vote our conscience.
“And 50 years from now, marriage equality will be the law of the land here in New Jersey and across our nation. And our kids and our grandkids are going to look at a day like today and wonder just what all the fuss was about.
“Because this is about families. This is about families like Tim Eustace’s family. Men, women, parents and children who are bonded through deep commitment and deep love. Who work hard and pay their taxes and contribute to their communities. The kind of families that make our country and our state great.
“Is our Constitution worth the paper it is printed on? Will we treat all of our families equally under the law, or will we single out some families for separate and unequal treatment as a matter of law?
“For me, this question is easy to answer. The time for equality is now.
“The Governor and some of the members of this body have said we need to put this question of fundamental civil rights on the ballot. But we have heard often today the history of ballot questions on civil rights issues, and how New Jersey in fact rejected giving women the right to vote in 1915 when that question was put on the ballot.
“Whether you are Democrat, Republican or Independent, our constituents sent us here to represent them. They elected us to make the tough decisions that affect their families, not to punt. And we owe it to them to make those tough decisions, even when it might not be the most politically comfortable.
“Now is not the time to punt. Now is the time to stand up for what is right.
“Some people have said that we should not be considering a fundamental matter of equality– that we should be focusing on other issues that face our state. We have addressed many of these challenges in recent days–sometimes with bipartisan support from our colleagues across the aisle and sometimes without.
“Rest assured, we will continue to focus on creating jobs, on reducing property taxes, on reforming health care and education, and many other important priorities. But what good is creating jobs if thousands and thousands of families are regularly denied financial security because of a failed civil union experiment?
“What good is reducing property taxes, if many of our families decide to pack up and leave because New Jersey won’t treat their family with the same dignity and equality under the law that the rest of us enjoy?
“What good is it if we make health care more affordable if a woman cannot make life-and-death health decisions for her same-sex partner of thirty years during a critical moment in the emergency room because she does not have equality?
“Yes, our constituents sent us here to address the most pressing challenges our state faces–unemployment, ever-increasing property taxes, and many more. But they also sent us here to stand up and fight for the fundamental values of our state. As this historic body has done for countless years, we can do both at the same time.
“Today, I will be standing up for equality. Because our Constitution means something. Because the founding truths of our state and of our nation mean something.
“And because the families of New Jersey cannot afford for us to wait one minute longer for truly equal treatment under the law. Thank you, Madam Speaker,” concluded Greenwald.