TRENTON, N.J. --- With less than two weeks before Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine leaves office, New Jersey's Senate will vote Thursday on a "gay marriage" bill that seemed dead just days ago but now could pass in the lame duck session and make the state the most populous yet to redefine marriage.
A "gay marriage" supporter, Corzine was defeated in November by Republican Chris Christie, who has pledged to veto the bill. But Christie won't take office until Jan. 19, and the bill's backers are scurrying to get it to Corzine's desk.
The bill may be a long-shot, but supporters are pressuring senators and emphasizing that nothing is certain until the actual vote takes place. Democrats control the Senate 23-17, and at least six Democrats (Paul Sarlo, John Girgenti, Nicholas Sacco, Jeff Van Drew, Shirley Turner and Ronald Rice Sr.) have gone on record as saying they oppose the bill. Only one Republican (Bill Baroni) says he supports it. That means that if the remaining Democrats vote for it and the remaining Republicans oppose it, the bill will fail, 22-18.
But Garden State Equality -- the state's leading homosexual group -- is trying to find votes and is asking members to come to Trenton Thursday for some last-minute lobbying. If it passes, it will move to the Assembly for a likely Monday debate. Conservative groups also are rounding up votes, and the National Organization for Marriage, which said it spent at least $500,000 on radio ads in the state targeting key districts, sent an e-mail to subscribers Tuesday urging those in New Jersey to contact their senators.
"People would basically have to completely turn their back on their commitments and their word in order to even get close to the votes needed to pass it," National Organization for Marriage Executive Director Brian Brown told Baptist Press. "It's not a done deal, and anything can happen in politics, but we are confident that marriage as the union of a man and a woman will win in New Jersey."
Mark Davis, pastor of West Monmouth Baptist Church in Freehold, N.J., said he's frustrated but not surprised the bill is being debated in a lame duck session.
"It's politics," Davis told Baptist Press. "They're trying to vote on it in a lame duck session because they know they have a governor who is willing to sign the bill into law."
The bill is being debated in an area of the country where liberal theology has flourished, but Davis said the Bible is clear on the issue in opposing "gay marriage."
"This is a huge moral issue in which the church should speak to and teach about, not from the place of an agenda against homosexual or gay people, but from a perspective of standing on the moral absolute truth of God that He created us for a certain design and a certain order," Davis said. "This is not about people. This is spiritual warfare."
The bill actually was scheduled for a vote Dec. 10 but was delayed when its Senate sponsors saw they were well short of the necessary votes. They had hoped to see the Assembly debate the bill by now, but Democratic Speaker Joseph Roberts said Dec. 31 his body wouldn't vote on the bill until it passed the Senate. Senate President Richard Codey then released a statement Jan. 4 saying he would allow a vote because New Jersey citizens "deserve the right to a formal debate on the Senate floor."
Five states recognize "gay marriage," and nearly all of them -- Iowa the exception -- are in the Northeast. Homosexual groups view the region as their best chance to build momentum to legalize "gay marriage" nationwide. Yet they have faced a backlash since Massachusetts' highest court made the state the first in 2004 to recognize such relationships. In the five and a half years since then, 26 states have amended their constitutions to prohibit "gay marriage," joining three others that previously did so. A 30th state, Hawaii, passed an amendment that does not protect traditional marriage but gives the legislature the authority to do so. Hawaii passed its amendment in the 1990s when its Supreme Court was on the verge of legalizing "gay marriage."