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BREAKING NEWS: New Jersey Assembly approves marriage equality; bill likely to be vetoed by Republican Gov. Christie

TRENTON, N.J. – The Democratic-controlled New Jersey Assembly voted 42-33 on Thursday to approve a bill legalizing marriage equality in the Garden State. On Monday, the state Senate voted 24-16 to approve the bill.

Five members of the Assembly were AWOL for the vote, including one Republican who had declared support for the bill.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Assemblymember Reed Gusciora gave impassioned speeches on the merits of marriage equality. "Today we can make history," Oliver said, her emotions almost choking her words. Gusciora refuted all the anti-gay arguments and said: "You'll hear that marriage has been the same for 2,000 years. In fact, it's evolved in the U.S. in just 200 years."

The opposition made the usual arguments, compliments of the Religious Right, to argue against passage of the bill.

A motion to send the bill back to committee was voted down, 44-31.

Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has promised to veto the bill. He has said that the issue should be put to a public vote, but critics say that civil rights should never be voted upon.

Currently, it does not appear that the New Jersey Legislature has the two-thirds votes in both chambers to overturn the threatened veto. The Senate needs 27 votes to override the veto, and the Assembly needs 54 votes. The legislature would have until January 2014 to override the veto.

The latest poll by Quinnipiac University showed that New Jersey voters approved marriage equality by a margin of 52% to 42%.

New Jersey legalized civil unions in 2007, and several attempts to approve same-sex marriage have faltered.

On Monday, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a bill that legalizes marriage equality in that state. Washington becomes the seventh state to legalize marriage equality, joining Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, along with the District of Columbia.

Gov. Gregoire, a Catholic like Gov. Christie, send a letter on Jan. 31 to her colleague in New Jersey, but he has failed to respond to her request to talk about how she has evolved on the issue of marriage equality during her eight years as governor.

Maryland and Illinois are soon to debate same-sex marriage, and California residents are awaiting a final decision on Proposition 8 after the District Court and the Appeals Court found that the law is unconstitutional. Marriage-equality supporters in Hawaii and Rhode Island are planning to push their state lawmakers to upgrade civil unions to full marriage equality.

The reaction

Evan Wolfson, founder and President of Freedom to Marry:

“Today’s win in New Jersey is a joyous advance for committed gay and lesbian couples in the Garden State, for their families, and for the entire community. In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously held that the constitution’s command of equality meant that the protections and responsibilities of marriage could no longer be denied to gay couples. After experimenting with a separate civil union mechanism, today the Legislature took note that marriage matters, and equal means equal, and voted in favor of the freedom to marry.

“Sadly, Governor Chris Christie has planted his feet on the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of the majority for marriage in New Jersey and nationwide. If the governor sticks with his threat of a veto, Freedom to Marry will work throughout the entire remainder of the legislative session, supporting local families, leaders, and advocates as they make the case and win the extra handful of votes needed to override the veto and do right by these families.

“We would not be here without the powerful leadership of Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg; and our partners and colleagues at Garden State Equality, led by Steven Goldstein, who have all worked tirelessly to end marriage discrimination in New Jersey.”

Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart:

"Today New Jersey's General Assembly rose above the political fray and did right by New Jersey's families. Governor Christie should follow their lead - but if he doesn't, legislators should continue to stand for equality and override his veto.

"Marriage equality in New Jersey is a matter of when - not if. New Jersey should choose to join the right side of history soon, because loving same-sex couples and their families should not have to wait any longer.

"We believe there are many paths to justice, and Lambda Legal continues to fight for marriage equality in the courts on behalf of seven same-sex couples, Garden State Equality, and all families in New Jersey. When Lambda Legal filed our first New Jersey marriage equality lawsuit in 2002, we knew we were all in for a long struggle. We have never stopped fighting for the rights of same-sex couples and their families in New Jersey while our colleagues advocate for justice in the legislature. Today we are optimistic that same-sex couples in New Jersey will be able to marry soon.

"It takes a lot of people working together to make history. We congratulate our colleagues at Garden State Equality, the courageous legislators who voted for equality, and all the advocates and allies across New Jersey who worked so hard for this victory."

HRC President Joe Solmonese:

“Today, the New Jersey State Legislature sent a powerful message that all its citizens should be treated equally under the law, and that all families deserve the same protections,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Governor Christie may veto this legislation, but he is out of step with the majority of voters on this issue. We will not give up until marriage equality becomes a reality in New Jersey.”

John Lewis, Marriage Equality USA legal director:

"We urge Gov. Christie to sign the bill. The freedom to marry for loving, committed couples should not be put up for a popular vote in New Jersey. As Gov. Gregoire said in her letter to Gov. Christie, 'Sometimes the majority doesn’t always protect the minority. We were elected to make decisions.' My own marriage was put up for a popular vote with Proposition 8 in California, and it was an extremely painful experience for our entire family. Loving, committed same-sex couples and their families are not political footballs to be tossed around in an election year. We are real people who simply want to be treated fairly, and with the dignity and respect that everyone deserves."

Chad Griffin, president of the board of American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER):

“New Jersey has taken a momentous step in defending the fundamental constitutional freedom to marry for all Americans. Separate is never equal—and the New Jersey Legislature recognized that today, setting an important example for the rest of the nation.”