This could be the opportunity of a lifetime, not just for same sex couples, but also for all citizens of New Jersey who believe in the civil rights of every individual regardless of race, color, religion or sexual orientation. I don’t care whether you call it gay marriage, same-sex marriage, or marriage equality; there is good reason to believe that both houses of the state legislature are on the cusp of passing legislation that would have New Jersey become the 7th state to legalize marriage between two men or two women.
The last time such an initiative came to a head in the lame duck session of the legislature in 2009, the effort flopped. Even though then Democratic Governor Jon Corzine said he supported same-sex marriage and Democrats controlled both houses of the legislature (a majority of whom supported same-sex marriage), as soon as Chris Christie won the gubernatorial election, everything changed. All of a sudden, the Democrats, who could have easily passed a same-sex marriage bill that Corzine would have signed, got scared. They chickened out.
Senate President Steve Sweeney at the time abstained on the bill and, soon after, told me in a public television interview on New Jersey Capitol Report, that he had made a mistake. Senator Sweeney gets points for his honesty, but Jon Corzine gets no points for being a coward who kept telling gay rights activists that it wasn’t the right time to pass same-sex marriage and asked them to be patient through the lame duck session. But as usual with Jon Corzine, while no one questioned his heart being in the right place as governor, you had to question his “intestinal fortitude,” which is another way of saying he often lacked what it took to follow through on what he said he believed.
But that was then, and this is a very different time and Chris Christie is a very different governor. Agree with him or not, Governor Christie says what he means and means pretty much everything he says. And even though Christie has made it clear that he does not support same-sex marriage based on his religious belief as a Catholic that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, there is still an opening here. Democrats still control both houses of the legislature. The vast majority of Democrats still support same sex marriage. Further, numerous Republicans, if given the opportunity to vote for what is in their hearts, will also vote to approve gay marriage.
Simply put, the legislature, in a bipartisan fashion, can and should pass marriage equality now. The fact that Governor Chris Christie doesn’t support it matters but not as much as it otherwise might. Why? Because this issue is not a priority for the governor. I know what he said publicly on marriage equality, which is what he has said to me many times in interviews. But frankly, it is obvious he doesn’t care very much about it. It’s not a priority. He is much more interested in fiscal issues. His priority is trying to decrease the income tax by 10% over three years and cutting what he believes to be the waste in state government. Governor Christie is all about the pocketbook and doesn’t care that much, if at all, about what goes on in the privacy of people’s bedrooms.
My hope here is that the governor, who often exerts tremendous influence over Republican legislators, makes it clear that they should vote for what is in their hearts and their heads. To do what they think is right. It would be great if he made it clear that he doesn’t care how they vote, which would be a not-so-subtle sign that if New Jersey actually had a law that allowed for marriage equality, it wouldn’t bother him in the least.
Finally, I’m not convinced the governor would outright veto a marriage equality bill if it got to his desk. He might just let it sit there, which would mean that in 45 days, it would automatically become law. And even if he did veto it, it is conceivable -- even though it is a long shot -- to override that veto in the legislature with a 2/3 majority. Either way, after years of struggle and inequity, New Jersey is positioned to do the right thing on the issue of same-sex marriage. Clearly it’s not a question of if, but rather when, this will happen. I say, why not now?