New Jersey's state Senate has passed a bill to recognize gay marriage and reaction is coming from both sides of the issue.

Monday's 24-16 vote was the first time either chamber of the state Legislature has passed such a bill. A previous measure failed in the Senate in January 2010, the only other time gay marriage has come up for a vote in New Jersey.


John Lewis is right.

When he came to New Jersey two weeks ago, the famed civil rights leader perfectly described the issue of marriage equality.

"I think the day will come in New Jersey and all across our country," he said, "when we will look back on this period and say, 'We were just silly.'"

But it's not the heart-felt testimonies of those for whom the promises of civil unions have failed that are silly.

Nor are the tears of those who just want to be treated as equals.

Not even the over-the-top dramatics by politicians or the name-calling.

What is silly is that we actually have to debate something as elementary as equal protection under the law for all residents.

Over the past six weeks, I have heard reasons and arguments for marriage equality that have only strengthened my belief that passage of this bill is the right thing, and the just thing.

I have heard from couples who have been failed by civil union’s false promise of equality … and from the legal community that recognizes the holes in our current law cannot be fixed.

It is time for us to own up to fact…civil unions are a failed experiment. They do not promote equality, they only prolong stigma. There is only one solution: marriage, in word and in deed, for all.

Yet from the opponents of equality I have not heard any reasoned arguments. I have only heard the fears and excuses. But those who worry that the traditions of their churches, temples and synagogues will be undone have nothing to fear at all. Marriage equality is not about religion. It never was, it never will be.

We cannot discriminate against communities of faith by forcing them to embrace marriage equality if it goes against their core religious tenets and teachings. But, we similarly cannot allow those religious communities to push their beliefs upon those that do wish to embrace equality.

This law would enable all communities of faith to do what is in line with their teachings, beliefs, and yes, traditions. We need look no further than our neighbors to the north for the reality check that marriage equality builds stronger communities and states.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont - each recognizes full marriage equality. And the sky has not fallen in any of these states. Each has recognized the benefits that can come only by recognizing all families as equal in stature. We talk about family values...well it's about time that we truly value families.

Lastly, to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, I know that there some of you who want to vote for marriage equality out of principle and because your conscience tells you it's the right thing to do. I also know you have been confronted with political retribution for doing so.

But when marriage equality was enacted in New York and more recently in Washington State, it could not have done so without the support of courageous Republicans who bucked their party bosses because they knew they had to do the right thing. Those who did were hailed as heroes not just in New York and Washington, but across the country. You could be that hero.

You could be that person who, when our great-great-grand-kids are looking back at this moment one hundred years from now, is singled out for having done a remarkable thing for justice and equality.

Our votes today may be cast as "yes" or "no," but in history they will be forever recorded as "right" and "wrong." There is no third option. So now is your moment. Now is your time to stand up and say yes, I hear the pleas of those who want nothing more than to be treated fairly and equitably. And I stand firmly with them.

Many of you have heard me say this, but it bears repeating. In words that were used to eulogize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the time is always ripe to do that which is right and that which needs to be done. The words are just as true now as they were 44 years ago.

I know many of you deep down know this is absolutely the right thing to do. I can tell you based on experience, failing to do the right thing and knowing it is a horrible feeling that eats at you every second of every day.

Yes, if you vote against this measure you might keep your elected position and keep the support of those who are important to your ability to maintain office and push through legislation. But at what cost?

Isn't it more important that we as elected representatives did something that truly changed people's lives for the better? I am not talking about tax policy, or paved roads or ribbon cuttings. I am talking about real, true change in the way we treat each other as human beings. The kind of change that will ripple across the nation and echo through the ages.

John Lewis is right.

"If two men want to fall in love and get married, or two women, it's their business," he said. "It's not the role of the federal government or the state government to intervene. It's a question of human dignity, a question of human rights."

Please…do the right thing and support this bill.

Senator Richard J. Codey (D – Essex, Morris)

“The world isn't going to end because of this vote. All that will happen is that more people will be able to marry those they love. That's it. Your street, your neighborhood, your place of worship, your schools, your town...nothing will be different come tomorrow.

“Today was a great first step in the effort to achieve marriage equality in New Jersey. When it comes down to it, it's really just a matter of common sense and decency.”


Senator Joe Pennacchio (R- Morris/Essex/Passaic)

Today, the Senate will consider a piece of legislation that has zero chance of becoming law.

The bill's sponsors have told us that public opinion justifies the Senate passing a bill that will not become law. If poll data is now driving the Senate's agenda, Senator Bateman's constitutional amendment placing same sex marriage before the voters should be scheduled for a vote, as it enjoys majority public support.

By that standard, we should also eliminate the grandfather clause in the dual office holding ban, change the current school funding formula to give the same amount per student to each school district, and pass pay to play reform that applies to every interest group including public employee unions.

The latest public polling indicates that the public's top priorities are jobs and property taxes. I realize this is a sensitive issue for many people. However, making this the number one issue by designating the bill "S-1" simply does not reflect the overall will of the vast majority of New Jersey citizens.


Senator Gerald Cardinale (R-39)

"Throughout human history, marriage has been a term used to describe a specific human relationship – the union of humans of different genders," Cardinale said. "It is amazing that this extremely controversial bill is the top priority of our legislative leadership, while our taxes are the highest in the country and unemployment ravages."


Senator Frank Lautenberg (D)

"I am proud that New Jersey’s State Senate has taken this important step toward providing marriage equality for same-sex couples," Lautenberg said. "Marriage equality is one of the most significant civil rights battles of our time, and we cannot stand by while same-sex couples are treated as second class citizens in our state. It's time to allow same-sex couples to marry and provide the same legal protections for all of New Jersey's families."

Earlier this year, Senator Lautenberg and the other Democratic members of the New Jersey Congressional Delegation wrote a letter urging New Jersey’s Democratic State Senate and Assembly members to support the marriage equality bill introduced by Democratic leadership in both houses.

State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union

“Throughout history New Jersey has sometimes been a leader in the evolution of civil rights in the United States of America and sometimes we've been a follower.

“In 1846, New Jersey was a leader, abolishing slavery seventeen years before the Emancipation Proclamation.

“In 1881, New Jersey was again a leader, declaring that local school districts and boards of education could not establish separate public schools based on race, color or creed, 66 years before Brown v Board of Education.

“In 1920, New Jersey was a follower, being the 29th state to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, six years after New Jersey voters rejected a women's right to vote by a 58 to 42 percent margin.

“Blacks and whites were never barred from being married in New Jersey, while it took a 1967 United States Supreme Court decision in Loving v Virginia, to grant that right to Americans in every state in the nation.

“Continuing its leadership in the evolution of civil rights, New Jersey amended its Law Against Discrimination in 1991 to include sexual orientation, a right that still does not exist in 29 other states and in federal law.

“Today, we have an opportunity to be again on the right side of history and take our rightful place in being a leader among the fifty states. We can join New York, Vermont, Washington, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa by approving Marriage Equality.

“The sanctity of marriage has not been endangered by Marriage Equality in those seven states. In fact, it's been enhanced by allowing more loving couples to get married.

“Senators, where do you want NEW JERSEY to be on the evolution of civil rights in the United States of America? Where do YOU want to be on the evolution of civil rights in the United States of America.

Are you going to soar like an eagle, or follow like a sheep?

“I choose to soar like an eagle.

“I want New Jersey to be a leader. I want to be a leader. I vote yes for Marriage Equality.”

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen

“Thank you, Mr. President, for posting this bill, and for having the courage to stand up for the rights of same-sex couples in New Jersey.

"I’d also like to thank my co-sponsor and “Odd Couple” friend, Raymond Lesniak, for fighting this fight with me to ensure all New Jerseyans can get married, regardless of their sexual orientation. Raymond, you have been a true partner from the beginning of this long road and we appreciate your support and encouragement every step of the way.

“The civil union law in New Jersey is flawed, the protections for same-sex couples vague and undefined, and recognition of the law stops at the State border.

“The word marriage is society’s universal, civil and legal acknowledgement of a loving relationship – the same legal and civil recognition that my late husband Irwin and I enjoyed throughout our almost 40-year marriage. Next week will be the 13th anniversary of his passing, and when I go to my synagogue to say my prayers during that service, I know that the bill we are considering today is for my Rabbi and fellow congregants’ right to practice our religion as he and they see fit.

“We’ve heard, from our constituents, our neighbors and our friends about how the law treats same-sex couples differently than it does opposite-sex couples. We’ve listened to hours upon hours of heart-wrenching testimony, in both Houses of the Legislature, about how the civil union law does not work, and ends up marginalizing same-sex partners and their families when the law’s protections are needed most.

“Today, with the passage of this bill, we will be taking a step in the right direction to correct this inequality. It’s time for New Jersey to get on the right side of history and enact true marriage equality for every one of its residents.

“I recognize that the bill has its detractors – some in this very room and some right down the hallway – who would fight the inevitable march of progress on marriage equality for personal or maybe even political reasons.

“They claim religious exclusivity on the institution of marriage, as if people cannot be married outside of the church, or any one denomination has sole dominion over the sanctity of marriage. They hide behind a veil of ‘family values,’ and cite fears that a marriage equality law will require them to address the seemingly controversial issue of homosexuality within their own families.

“If you don’t believe in gay marriage, don’t enter into a gay marriage. It’s really as simple as that.

“Because when it comes down to it, the marriage of two committed, consenting people in love, be they straight or gay, should make zero difference to the rest of the world. This bill absolutely maintains every one’s rights to adhere to the tenets of their individual faith and exercise their own religious freedoms and preserves the rights of the individual over the mandate of the majority.

“It clearly states that ‘no religious society, institution or organization in this State serving a particular faith or denomination shall be compelled to provide space, services, advantages, goods or privileges related to the promotion of marriage if such promotion of marriage is in violation of the beliefs of such religious society, institution or organization.’ In other words, the religious entity does not have to provide any support for an individual who seeks the promotion of gay marriage.

“Who are we to say that basic equal rights should be denied to any class of citizen, simply because we’re uncomfortable with the nature of their relationship? The State should not be in the business of legally sanctioning homophobia by conferring separate but equal status to the legal recognition of a union between two people. And that’s what the perpetuation of the civil union law amounts to – government-sanctioned, legally justified homophobia.

“We need to recognize that objection to marriage equality isn’t steeped in conservative’s steeped in prejudice.

“Former U.S. Solicitor-General Ted Olson, the lead lawyer for the suit to reject California’s Proposition 8 – which defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman – made the best conservative case for marriage equality when he wrote: ‘Legalizing same-sex marriage would also be a recognition of basic American principles, and would represent the culmination of our nation's commitment to equal rights. It is, some have said, the last major civil-rights milestone yet to be surpassed in our two-century struggle to attain the goals we set for this nation at its formation. This bedrock American principle of equality is central to the political and legal convictions of Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives alike.’

“He later went on to say that ‘gay marriage is family values.’ And that’s coming from someone who served in George W. Bush’s administration.

“Representative Maureen Walsh, a Republican representing Washington State’s 16th District, said during that State’s debate on marriage equality just last week: ‘How can I deny anyone the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life? To me, it seems almost cruel.’

“These are the leaders in the Republican party who recognize that supporting marriage equality is the moral thing to do. I know we will have some cross-party support for this bill today in the New Jersey State Senate. I’m grateful for my colleagues who will vote their consciences.

“To those who may still be on the fence... I urge you – I implore you – to join with us on the right side of history and support this bill today.

“It’s not enough to say we will put the idea to a ballot question, and let the will of the people direct us. The will of the people is already on display, in this House. We were elected by the people to represent their interests and lead – not abdicate leadership and cut and run when the job gets hard.

“Subjecting the equal rights of same-sex couples to the whims of the majority – and to the multi-million dollar campaign which will inevitably precede the vote from special interests nationwide, intent on preserving the status quo – to me, that’s offensive and unprecedented.

“New Jersey has never adopted equal protection and rights for people through initiative and referendum. In fact, the last time it was tried, in 1915, voters rejected a woman’s right to vote by a 2-to-1 margin. Women didn’t get the vote until the adoption and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 – achieved through Congressional action and ratified by the New Jersey Legislature, not the voters, in February of that year – just about 92 years ago this month.

“So I ask you, each of you, today to look into your hearts and follow your consciences on the issue of marriage equality. Will you side with institutional prejudice, social injustice and cultural inertia and vote this bill down? Or will you recognize, as I have, and as others in this chamber have, that people should be judged by the love in their heart, and not the gender of their lover?

“Stand up to the Governor, not because of political calculations or fear of retribution, but because it’s the right thing to do on this issue. With enough votes in the future, we can override the Governor’s eventual veto, and can do right by New Jersey’s same-sex couples who are being denied basic equal rights under the current law.

“For my part, my vote will be cast for love.

“I will cast my vote in the names of my grandchildren’s uncles, Nelson and David.

“I will cast my vote in honor of my good friends, Steven and Daniel, and Jane and Pam, and Tim and Kevin.

“I will cast my vote in honor of my cousin Steven.

“I will cast my vote for the Holden and Gallucio family. For Madison, Adam and their loving grandfather.

“And most importantly, I will cast my vote in honor of my grandchildren, Shayna and Jonah, who should be able to grow up in a world in which love, not fear and hatred, is the law of the land.

“Mr. President, in their honor, and the many, many New Jerseyans who would enjoy equal rights under this legislation, I gladly move the bill.”