TRENTON, NJ -- Just days after suffering another setback in the liberal Northeast, "gay marriage" supporters could get back on track in New Jersey Monday when a bill that could become law by Christmas will be debated in a committee in the midst of a lame duck session.
Although committee votes often are overlooked, Monday's vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee will be closely watched because the 13-member panel -- and the larger 40-member Senate -- are the two major hurdles for the bill. The Assembly is expected to pass the law, and Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine -- who leaves office Jan. 19 -- has promised to sign it. Democrats control both chambers.
With Corzine's successor a "gay marriage" opponent, supporters of the bill are rushing.
"It's going to be a very tight vote [in the Senate]," Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, which opposes the bill, told Baptist Press.
Democrats control the committee, 8-5. Underscoring the uncertainty of the vote, the committee chairman (Sen. Paul Sarlo) says he'll vote against it, while one GOP member (Sen. Bill Baroni) is expected to support it. Democrats hold a 23-17 edge in the Senate. At least one Democrat not on the committee, Sen. Ronald Rice, says he'll vote against the bill if it makes it to the floor. If it passes the committee it could be voted on in the full Senate as early as Thursday.
New Jersey already recognizes same-sex civil unions, which grant all the legal benefits of marriage minus the name. The "gay marriage" bill, S1967, has six sponsors, all Democrats. The bill would change the law to define marriage as the "legally recognized union of two consenting persons in a committed relationship" and would go into effect two months after being signed.
The committee vote will come less than one week after New York's Senate handed homosexual activists a stunning defeat when it defeated a "gay marriage" bill, 38-24. That loss came one month after Maine voters reversed a "gay marriage" law and New Jersey voters elected a new governor, Republican Chris Christie, who opposes "gay marriage."
The fact that the bill was delayed until after Election Day and is being voted on in a lame duck session is "egregious," Deo said. He and other opponents of the bill are urging citizens to contact their respective senator. A November Quinnipiac University poll found New Jersey adults oppose "gay marriage" by a 49-46 percent margin, a reversal from an April poll that found adults supporting it, 49-43.
"They've got to let them know that they believe this bill should not be ramrodded through in the lame duck session and they want the right to vote on it at the ballot and that the legislature instead should pass a state constitutional amendment," Deo said.
Unlike California and other states, New Jersey does not allow citizen-driven initiatives. If the bill becomes law, it likely will stand.
Five states recognize "gay marriage" -- Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa. Those changes in law came via court or legislative action. With a ranking of No. 11 nationally, New Jersey would become the most populous state to redefine marriage.
"Gay marriage" has lost in all 31 states where it was placed on the ballot.
"Because this issue is so hotly contested, it's not like a normal lame duck," Deo said. "This is a bill that has massive implications for the entire state, for every man, woman and child that lives in this state."
The bill seemed dead just one week ago but was revived after more than 200 Democratic leaders released a letter Dec. 1 urging a vote on the bill. The bill has been promoted for months by Steven Goldstein, chairman of the homosexual group Garden State Equality. Goldstein has deep Democratic ties and was co-campaign manager of Corzine's successful 2000 campaign for the U.S. Senate.