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Window closing fast on supporters of NJ gay marriage bill

Photo Credit: of you and a (very) brief bio: CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM@GMAIL.COM
Photo Credit: of you and a (very) brief bio: CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM@GMAIL.COM

The window is closing fast as gay rights supporters push state lawmakers in Trenton to pass a new law legalizing same-sex marriage before unseated incumbents leave the Legislature in exactly a week.

Members of Garden State Equality have been pressing members of the lame-duck Legislature who are conducting committee hearings at the Statehouse. The group’s chairman and CEO, Steven Goldstein, even questioned what the group is getting for campaign contributions to Democrat lawmakers who aren’t bringing the bill to a vote.

“How come when LGBT people protest inequality, politicians say we go too far,” said Goldtein of Teaneck, “but when we turn out thousands of volunteers and give hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates, doing as much as any other constituency on the planet, they love us? It’s a sickening double standard.

“[T]o remake the state’s Democratic Party — to make it as progressive as rank-and-file Democrats all across New Jersey — we’re going to have to take a stand,” Goldstein later wrote in an editorial on Blue Jersey .

That plan, he said, is “going to have to have some surprises that shock the establishment and make it clear we progressives will never be taken for granted again.

“Otherwise, for years and years to come, the best we will ever do is a state Democratic Party that acts like it does right now.”

Steve Goldstein (Chair/CEO) Garden State Equality

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Local Assembly member Valerie Vaineri Huttle, a Bergen Democrat originally from North Bergen, said she’d vote in favor of a marriage-equality measure — if only she had the chance.

Doesn’t look like that is going to happen. The measure was pulled from the docket last month after a poll of Assembly members left them at least three short of the 21 votes needed to make it fly. Getting hold of legislators’ ears has been difficult over the holidays. Now they seem determined to tie up loose ends without making any kind of controversial waves, as Garden State Equality continues pushing.

Here’s the rub: Gov. Jon Corzine, who has a week and a half left in office, said he would sign the bill into law, but Gov.-elect Chris Christie, who takes office Jan. 19, has said he will not.

As a result, Senate President Richard J. Codey and Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. both received a letter from 120 interfaith clergy members in the state asking them to immediately post bills for a vote in their respective chambers:

“We are 120 clergy members across New Jersey from 19 faiths and denominations. We are but a sample
of New Jersey clergy who support marriage equality and wish to marry same-sex couples legally.

“We are Baptist, Buddhist, Episcopal, Ethical Culture Society, Interfaith, Jewish Conservative, Jewish
Reconstructionist, Jewish Reform, Lutheran, Metropolitan Community Church, Methodist, Presbyterian,
Reformed Church of America, Sankey Tribe, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Unitarian Universalist,
United Church of Christ and Unity Fellowship Church. Among us are members of the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers, who do not have clergy.

“We 120 clergy members ask you to put the marriage equality bill to a vote in your respective houses –
without precondition – before the end of the current legislative session.

“In our nation founded on the separation of church and state, the State of New Jersey should not be in
the business of telling faiths and clergy whom we can or cannot legally marry. We take issue with the
State’s current marriage law, which is not religiously neutral but reflects the beliefs of leaders of a
particular faith community which opposes marriage equality.

“We 120 clergy members support the freedom of religion embodied by the U.S. Constitution, the New
Jersey Constitution and the marriage equality bill now before the New Jersey legislature, the Freedom of
Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act.

“Language in the bill underscores the right of every religion and every clergy member to decide whom to marry and not to marry.

“Furthermore, an amendment to the bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month would
codify the nation’s strongest protections for religious freedom in matters of marriage. The amendment
ensures that no religious organization or religious facility in New Jersey can be sued because it has
followed its conscience in which marriages it chooses to accommodate, or not accommodate.

“There cannot be a better guarantor of religious freedom than the version of the Freedom of Religion and
Equality in Civil Marriage Act now before you.

“We are proud that our nation has never allowed any one religious doctrine to determine secular law.
“New Jersey law provides for divorce, for example, though some find divorce religiously impermissible.

“Indeed, the idea of New Jersey’s banning civil divorce would be unthinkable. Our state would not stand
for favoring the convictions of any one religion over another.

“As 120 clergy across New Jersey from 19 faiths and denominations, we urgently ask you to put the
marriage equality bill to a vote in your respective houses – without precondition – before the end of the
current legislative session. The State must get out of our sanctuaries and uphold our religious freedom
as clergy to marry whom we wish, or don’t wish, under State law.”

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