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N.J. Congressman: Gay Marriage Is A Federal Issue Too [AUDIO]

Jemel Countess, Getty Images

Townsquare Media News first reported that legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey is a top priority and it will be put on the fast-track in 2012. Leading Democratic lawmakers made it official with a press conference earlier this week. A member of the Garden State’s congressional delegation is also tackling the issue at the federal level.

“When the civil right of marriage equality is fully recognized here in New Jersey, New Jersey’s star will shine a little brighter,” says Representative Rush Holt. “I say, ‘when’ not ‘if.’ This is going to happen. The sooner it happens the sooner we will sweep away this inequality.”

Holt explains what needs to be done by him and his like-minded colleagues in Washington to ensure every state doesn’t have to go through the legislative process. He says, “We have to clear away the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act,’ so that marriages will be recognized from state to state to state.”

Assemblyman Gusciora said Monday, “Now more than ever we have broad support particularly from the State Senate President, Streve Sweeney and the (Assembly) Speaker Sheila Oliver…..In the end, it shouldn’t be a political issue. This is a recognition that same-sex couples have the same right to legal recognition of marriage as heterosexuals.”

Designating the same-sex marriage legislation as S-1 has real significance because it sends the message that the measure is the top issue. The co-sponsors will be Senate Democratic Leader Loretta Weinberg, State Senator Ray Lesniak and State Senate President Steve Sweeney. Sweeney wants, “to right a wrong.” Gusciora’s bill is designated A-1.

A little over two years ago Saturday, a gay marriage bill failed in the Upper House. Then-Majority Leader Sweeney did not cast a vote at all. He has since said publicly, “That was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in government and I couldn’t live with myself after that.”

Garden State Equality chairman and CEO, Steven Goldstein says, “We are simply elated that Senate President Steve Sweeney is not only a supporter of marriage equality now, he’s leading the way on the new marriage equality bill.”

Democrats say that in 2009 and 2010 they failed because they didn’t frame their argument well enough. They insist that this time around they will explain that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue, not a political issue or a religious issue. Then-Governor Jon Corzine said he would’ve signed the bill into law if the legislature would’ve passed it.

Governor Chris Christie is on record saying he’s, “not a fan” of same-sex marriage and he wouldn’t support it. Sweeney says, “We’re not asking for the Governor’s permission and we’re not backing down or backing off.” He’s hopeful Christie will read the bill and understand it as a civil rights issue and feels if that happens he would see it makes no sense for him to block it.

“We think it has enough votes to pass,” says Goldstein. “Do we think the Governor will veto it? Of course the Governor is going to veto it, but let’s take one step at a timeā€¦.For right now we’re looking to pass the bill and when that happens that in itself will be tremendous progress to the marriage equality movement in New Jersey.”

Christie campaigned Sunday in New Hampshire for GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney who openly opposes gay marriage, but supports ‘partnership agreements.’ The New Hampshire legislature is expected to vote soon whether to repeal a 2009 gay marriage law. Romney recently told a voter there that he supports the repeal effort. “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” he told the voter, who turned out to be a gay veteran.

Gusciora says Democratic leaders in the Assembly are on board and “committed” to the issue. The bill is being re-introduced first in the Senate because that’s where it failed in 2010. The Assembly did not post the bill for a vote once it was rejected in the Upper House. Sweeney, Weinberg and Lesniak are hopeful the new bill can quickly move out of committee and be posted for a vote in the full Senate as early as next month. Some inside the caucus say the bill might not have the 21 votes needed to pass the Upper House.

Gusciora says, “There’s a commitment from leadership of both houses to move this early, get this out of the way and continue on with job creating measures in the state.”

Confidence is high within the Democratic Party that there are enough votes to pass the legislation in both houses possibly with bi-partisan support. They hope Republican members will support the bill because they claim (but cannot confirm) that nationally, not one legislator has ever lost a seat after voting “yes” for same-sex marriage

The proposed measure is permissive in that it doesn’t require churches to perform gay weddings if they are opposed to them. They would not be required to rent out their facilities for such events either.

Many people feel Governor Christie will not sign a same-marriage bill if one passes the legislature and lands on his desk. Widespread opinion is that he would veto such a measure, but there is a third option. Christie doesn’t have what is called “pocket veto” authority. If he simply ignores the bill for 45 days it would automatically become law. Christie would not be on record as supporting or rejecting the legislation.

If the measure passes the legislature and Christie does veto it, it would take 27 Senators and 54 Assembly members to override that veto. That means 3 GOP Senators and 5 GOP Assembly members would have to defy the Republican Governor. Democrats claim to believe that’s not impossible.

New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont are the only six states that currently allow same-sex marriage. It’s also legal in the District of Columbia.

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