(TRENTON) – Assembly Deputy Speaker John S. Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) released the following statement Thursday as the Assembly voted 42-33 to approve marriage equality legislation in New Jersey (A-1):
“Madame Speaker, I rise in support of the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act, and to ask my colleagues to join with me in ending one of the final vestiges of discrimination against New Jersey’s lesbian and gay community.
“New Jersey’s fight against such discrimination has been a long journey and a learning experience for many of us. It is barely twenty years since we first found the courage to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians.
“Since then, step by slow step, we have traveled to domestic partnerships and then to civil unions.
“It’s time to bring this journey home.
“It’s time to break down the wall that divides us into those who are entitled to marriage and those who are not.
“The time has come for New Jersey to stand for marriage equality.
“I realize that for many in this chamber, this is not an easy vote. The fight for civil rights has never been an easy fight.
“But in our history as a nation, our shining moments were when, in the face of adversity, our leaders stood up for the civil rights of our citizens. Our shame was when our leaders stood in the way.
“In the fight for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, entrenched Southern Democrats used their positions as committee chairs and the filibuster to block passage of the bill. But through the leadership of President Johnson; Senator Humphrey, the bill’s manager; and Senator Dirksen, the Minority Leader, the 57-days old filibuster was broken and the bill passed.
“As the U.S. Senate Historical Office states, “Never in history had the Senate been able to muster enough votes to cut off a filibuster on a civil rights bill. And only once in the 37 years since 1927 had it agreed to cloture for any measure.”
“It came about because of leadership and today, it remains a proud moment in our history.
“Sadly, our Governor is not leading this fight. But you can be a leader.
“You can follow in the footsteps of another state legislator whose one vote led to another proud moment in the advance of civil rights in America. That legislator was Harry Burn of Tennessee.
“Twenty-four year old Harry Burn had been an opponent of women’s suffrage. On August 18, 1920, thirty five of the thirty six states needed had ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to our Constitution.
“On that day, Tennessee voted on the amendment.
“Harry Burn saw that with his “no” vote, the measure would go down in a tie. But Harry Burn listened to his better angel, and he listened to his mother. He changed his vote to yes, and women gained the constitutional right to vote.
“All because of one legislator willing to break with the past; willing to lead.
“Today, with this vote, each one of us will leave our mark on New Jersey’s history.
“Each one of us will decide where we stand on what may well be the defining civil rights issue of our tenure and of our time.
“Our names and our votes will be recorded, yea or nay, and future generations will know who stood for justice and equality and who stood in the way.
“For those who vote no, there will be no footnote in that history book telling the world that you would have voted for a referendum. There will be no asterisk explaining that you didn’t think it mattered because the governor planned to veto the bill.
“There will only be each of our names and next to it just one word – yea or nay.
“For those who believe in marriage equality, who believe that this is right and just, you may never have a second chance.
“This could very well be the one record of where you stood – yea or nay.
“I believe the time for marriage equality is long overdue. Our opportunity to right this injustice is here and now.
“I urge each member of this General Assembly to cast a vote understanding that it will be a large part of our legacy and I hope that you will stand with me in support of marriage equality.”