New Jersey swings toward equality

The New Jersey Senate and Assembly have passed a bill legalizing marriage equality in the Garden State following a 24-16 vote. However, Republican Gov. Christie has promised to veto the bill and with a 27-vote majority required to override a veto, it’s unlikely that gay couples will be saying “I do” in New Jersey any time soon.

While an exciting show of support and a disappointing veto makes for a great news story, there’s an even bigger and more important story to be told.

In 2010, Democratic leaders were lobbying for last-minute support to pass a marriage-equality bill before outgoing Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who supported the measure, left office. In a last-ditch effort, Democrats could only gather 14 votes, while Republicans pulled many Democrats to vote against the bill and gathered 20 Senators to voice their opposition. Even though the Democrats controlled  the Senate, they could not gather enough support  to make even a modest attempt and the embarrassing defeat left gay-rights activists reeling. Even Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, voted against the bill.

Just two years after its miserable defeat, the marriage equality bill was resurrected. With no significant changes in leadership or composition of the Senate, the bill somehow gathered bipartisan support and cruised to an easy passage. Just three votes shy of a veto-proof majority, the shift in opinion is stark and startling.

Practically overnight, gay-rights groups went from cursing the names of Democratic lawmakers to singing their praises.

“This week’s marriage-equality votes are like the World Series, the Super Bowl and a Barbra Streisand concert all wrapped up in one,” said Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay-rights advocacy group Garden State Equality.

New Jersey’s first openly gay lawmaker, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, recognized the significant shift in opinion and said, “I don’t think there’s one civil-rights leader in the South who thought ending segregation would be a slam dunk on the first time out.”

Recent public opinion polls show increasing public support for gay marriage and with Christie on the short list of running mates for Mitt Romney, Republican lawmakers are willing to cross Christie, who will likely soon be leaving the state. New Jersey is waking up to the reality that marriage equality is inevitable.

With New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois and Washington all considering marriage equality shortly after it passed in Washington, D.C. and New York, the resources of the anti-equality groups are quickly running thin. Coupled with a recent report indicating that a majority of the funding for the virulently anti-gay group National Organization for Marriage coming from two sole and anonymous donors, there’s no way for NOM to keep up.

More than 40 percent of Americans now live in states where their relationships are recognized in one form or another, and the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act is on its death bed in several court cases. There’s just no stopping us now.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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