TRENTON – Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, a sponsor of the “Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act,” issued the following statement today, after the bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 7-6:
“A recent poll conducted by the Eagleton Institute of Politics determined that only 2% of New Jersey residents believe gay marriage is an important issue. But to those gay couples in a loving and committed civil union, it is an extremely important issue. It means they will be able to visit their loved ones in a hospital or make arrangements for their funerals without painful rejection, without questioning and delays caused by doubting Thomases unfamiliar with the meaning of civil unions.
“It means they will get the health and pension benefits they are entitled to without having to hire a lawyer to convince their employers that civil unions convey the same rights and obligations as marriage. It means they will be treated as human beings should be treated: with love, compassion, understanding and acceptance.
“It is not often we have an opportunity to change society and how we treat each other as human beings. It occurs a few times in our lifetimes, if it occurs at all. We have that opportunity today. We can change fear to love, hate to compassion, cruelty to kindness.
“Those who oppose gay marriage are not unloving, hateful or cruel. But our law, which does not allow for gay marriage, provides a safe haven for those who are. Legalizing gay marriage will take away that safe haven and make us a more compassionate, understanding and loving society.
“I pray every day to be a compassionate, understanding and loving human being. Some days I do not achieve those goals, in my actions and in my deeds. Today will not be one of those days. Today I have an opportunity to be compassionate, understanding and loving, by my yes vote for marriage equality.
“But today is not about me. It’s about the rights of gay couples from whom we heard heart-wrenching stories of pain inflicted, unknowingly and knowingly, as a result of our law which fails to secure for them the rights of marriage, in its import and in its application. To guarantee these couples those rights, as required by the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, and to relieve them of the fear and pain from being denied those rights, I urge my fellow lawmakers to vote yes for marriage equality.
“On a personal note, I have a friend who had to tell his friend who was dying of AIDS in a hospital that his parents refused to come see him on his deathbed because they were ashamed that he was gay. The shame and the pain that society generates by its lack of compassion and understanding can be lifted at least in the State of New Jersey by removing some of the stigma attached to same-sex couples in long-term, committed relationships. Today’s vote was a step in that direction, and I look forward to working with my fellow lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to see the ‘Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act’ become law.”