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Lead Assembly Sponsor of Marriage Equality Bill Testifies Before Senate Panel

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), one of the legislature’s leading advocates for marriage equality testified on Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging the panel to pass the “Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act, a measure (A-1) that he is sponsoring in the General Assembly.

The following is Gusciora’s testimony, as delivered:

“I want to thank the Chair and Senate President Steve Sweeney for allowing me to not only testify, but also for posting this monumental civil rights bill.

America has always been about the celebration of those who struggle for Triumph over Adversity. Despite the opposition and religious bigotry, it was the right thing to do to correct the ills of discrimination based upon race in this country. And despite the opposition and religious bigotry, we celebrate those who fought for women’s suffrage. In fact our state, despite the opposition, upheld the foundations of liberty when we enacted the Law Against Discrimination, which protects us against discrimination based upon color, creed, sex, national origin, handicap status, and yes, sexual orientation.

I hope no one here wants to turn back the clock in our rich history of safeguarding popular will over the rights of minorities, which has been a bedrock principle of this country since Madison’s Federalist Paper #10.

Despite this, you will hear opposition today, but it is nothing more than the repeat of arguments used in the past, particularly with ending the ban on interracial marriages:

– Such as, it would degrade moral development;

– That it will destroy the institution of marriage;

§ That it will be a ‘slippery slope’ leading to marrying one’s dog, despite the fact paws can’t sign legal documents.

A.1/S.1 merely upholds the principles established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Virginia v. Loving decision, which declared:

– the ‘freedom to marry’ belongs to all Americans;

– that marriage is one of our ‘vital personal rights’; and

– the right to marry is ‘essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by a free [people].’

In fact, A.1/ S.1 does not create special rights, but enacts the safeguards and a recognition found in the Loving decision that everyone has been endowed with certain unalienable rights, and among those are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s why NJ has chosen to include those words in our state constitution. We have a firm recognition of fairness and equity. That is why S.1 and A.1 are so important.

Just three years ago, I sat before this same committee to explain how our state discriminates against same-sex couples by not allowing them to marry. I’m here, again, to reiterate how our state is continuing to do so.

The creation of civil unions has produced a ‘separate but equal’ system. As we know from our history classes, ‘separate but equal’ is unconstitutional as it is inherently unequal.

Today, marriage gives individuals countless legal rights, including the priority for inheritance rights, the right to make medical decisions on a spouse’s behalf, get healthcare coverage through work or file joint tax returns. Only some of these are protected under our Civil Union Laws. But you have to then ask yourselves, “Why does there needs to be a distinction?”

Why does a gay couple, who were legally married in another state such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Massachusetts or NY, can be duly married, yet when they cross the border they become ‘civil unionized?’ Yet, the darling of the social conservatives in this audience, Newt Gingrich, does not have to go through the same hoops.

Additionally, many same-sex couples have children, either biologically or through adoption, and denying their parents’ right to marry is denying them an opportunity to strengthen their family structure through a civil marriage.

S.1 and A.1 seek to rectify these injustices felt by many of our working, tax-paying New Jerseyans. An injustice that the NJ Supreme Court ruled back in 2006, and an injustice that the majority of our New Jersey residents agree with. And as long as the state is in the marriage business, it must be done so on an equitable basis.

The fact remains, marriage in this country is a secular right that is afforded to persons who abide by State laws when they take a blood test and then venture to city hall to acquire a marriage license. Whether a couple gets married by a person of faith, a mayor, or a judge, they must first meet the qualifications set forth by the State to receive a State of New Jersey marriage license.

Notwithstanding, to allay the fears of the religious community, S.1 and A.1 reaffirms that no religion or religious institution would be required to solemnize any marriage in conflict with its doctrine or beliefs. It simply provides that any governmentally performed marriage would be a civil marriage and would be open to two consenting person, whether they be same-sex or heterosexual. Likewise, it would convert all civil unions into civil marriages.

Finally, Mr. Chair, make no mistake, this is very much one of those struggles for Triumph over Adversity. This is the Stonewall of our time; to correct the last vestiges of discrimination in our state – and especially in light of the opposition who want to divide this country.

I especially want to commend the young persons here, who know better, and ask why not,’ rather than ‘why.’ They understand the struggle. They understand that the ‘freedom to marry’ belongs to all Americans regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation. We adults should listen and enact this ground-breaking legislation. Thank you,” concluded Gusciora.