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Assemblywoman’s Civil Rights Bill Would Bring Equal Treatment to All Couples

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), one of the sponsors of democratic legislation to create true marriage equality for same-sex couples in New Jersey, today released the following statement as the Assembly Judiciary panel listens to testimony on the legislation:

“One year ago, Governor Christie signed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, one of the toughest anti-bullying laws in the country.

“I certainly remember the articulate and brave young men and women who shared their horrific experiences with the Legislature. Many of those students were targeted because of their sexual orientation. It became clear that while bullying affects all students, those who identify as gay or are perceived to be gay are disproportionately impacted by peer harassment and intimidation.

“The purpose of the anti-bullying law is to respond to bullying and also to prevent it. That can only be done by teaching students that although they are not all the same, they are all equal and will be treated equally in our state.

“Unfortunately, that is not true.

“LGBT students, as well as their peers, know that when it is time to get married in our state, they will not be treated equally. They will not be treated fairly.

“New Jersey schools are tasked with teaching students that discrimination against their fellow classmates is wrong and punishable. It is undoubtedly more difficult to impress the values of fairness and equality upon our children when our state does not allow same sex couples to marry.

“Now is the time to change that. Every person in our state should have the same opportunities and privileges. It is the only way we can truthfully tell our children that intolerance is unacceptable, that discrimination is unacceptable, and that unequal treatment is unacceptable,” said Vainieri Huttle.

The bill (A-1) – titled the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act – would eliminate the civil unions that have been in place since 2007, but have failed to provide equal treatment to New Jersey’s same-sex couples, and instead define marriage as the legally recognized union of two consenting people in a committed relationship.

Vainieri Huttle noted that six states and the District of Columbia, together comprising 35 million Americans, allow same-sex couples to marry.

The bill also expressly stipulates that no member of the clergy of any religion authorized to solemnize marriage and no religious society, institution or organization in this state shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

It also includes another religious exemption stating that no religious society, institution or organization in this state serving a particular faith or denomination shall be compelled to provide space, services, advantages, goods or privileges related to the solemnization, celebration or promotion of marriage if such solemnization, celebration or promotion of marriage is in violation of the beliefs of such religious society, institution or organization.

Also, the bill states that no civil claim or cause of action against any religious society, institution or organization, or any employee thereof, shall arise out of any refusal to provide space, services, advantages, goods or privileges.

Under the bill, partners who have previously established a civil union may apply for a marriage license and would receive the license immediately, without the usual 72-hour waiting period between application for, and issuance of, the license. The usual fees for a marriage license would apply to same sex couples.

The bill is also sponsored by Assembly Democratic lawmakers Speaker Sheila Oliver, Reed Gusciora, Connie Wagner, Mila Jasey, John McKeon, Jason O’Donnell, John Wisniewski and Timothy Eustace.

It would take effect on the 60th day following enactment.