TRENTON – Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, and a sponsor of the “Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act,” delivered the following floor remarks today before the vote on her bill. The bill was defeated by a vote of 14-20:
“I’m wearing my American flag tie today. I was inspired to wear it by Senator Bateman who wore his American flag tie when the Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony on the Marriage Equality Act. He wore it in memory of Pearl Harbor Day and the Americans who fought and died for our liberties and our civil rights. I commend Senator Bateman for recognizing and honoring our veterans.
“I believe Senators Doherty, Girgenti, Haines, Rice, Singer and I are the only New Jersey Senators who have served in our military. We served alongside — knowingly and unknowingly — gay soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect our liberties and civil rights. We served alongside American heroes who had to hide and deny their sexuality in order to fight for the freedoms and liberties we have today.
“During the Civil War, World Wars I and II and the Korean War, African-American soldiers laid their lives on the line for our liberties and civil rights. Before President Eisenhower ended segregation in the military, they had to endure the indignity of being denied equal status with their fellow soldiers. Those who were fortunate to come back to America had to endure the indignity of being treated as second and third class citizens and, in some cases, as non-citizens.
“I don’t have standing to make the argument that marriage equality and gay rights are both civil rights issues. Senator Gill gave the most eloquent and compelling speech in the Judiciary Committee on the civil rights issue and no doubt will be equally eloquent and compelling today. I will rely on her arguments, and the words of Julian Bond. In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, this icon of the civil rights movement said:
“‘Many gays and lesbians worked side-by-side with me in the 1960s civil rights movement. Am I now to tell them, thanks for risking life and limb helping me win my rights, but they’re excluded because of a condition of their birth, that they can’t share now in the victories they helped me to win, that having accepted and embraced them as partners in a common struggle I can now turn my back on them, deny them the rights they helped me win, the rights I enjoy because of them? Not a chance. No.’
“Senator Cardinale has proposed to put Marriage Equality on the ballot, just as the New Jersey Legislature did in 1914, when the voters rejected a woman’s right to vote by a 58% to 42% margin. Thankfully, six years later, the New Jersey Senate voted 18-2 to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving woman the right to vote. If Senator Cardinale was in the New Jersey Senate in 1920 perhaps Senators Allen, Beck, Buono, Cunningham, Redd, Ruiz, Turner, and Weinberg would not be in the Senate today.
“We’ve received 120 letters from clergy of 19 different religious denominations supporting marriage equality. The Unitarian Church in Somerset Hills; The Living Waters Lutheran Church in Flemington; The Unitarian Church in Washington Crossing; The Unitarian Church in Princeton; The Unitarian Church in Montclair; The Emanuel Lutheran Church in New Brunswick; The St. Paul Lutheran Church in Teaneck; The Grace Lutheran Church in Camden; The Ridge of Peace Community Church in Camden; the Bnai Keshet Synagogue in Montclair; St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Millburn; Trinity Episcopal Church in Asbury Park; Faith United Church of Christ in Union; First Congressional Church of Christ in Montclair; and String of Pearls Synagogue in Princeton all want the right to practice their religious beliefs and perform same sex marriages, but our law prevents them. We discriminate against them, and by that discrimination, endorse some religions over other religions. Government has no business endorsing one religion over another. This great country was founded by patriots who fled from England where the Government endorsed one religion over others. Their passion for individual freedom was so strong, they left their homeland to come to American, in the hope that a government in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, would not interfere with their religious beliefs. Unless we vote for Marriage Equality, we will be interfering with the religious beliefs of many of our citizens. Government is wrong to interfere with religious beliefs. Today, we can right that wrong.
“Unless we vote for Marriage Equality, we will be violating Article 1 section 3, of the New Jersey State Constitution which states: ‘No person shall be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience;’ and section 4, which states: ‘there shall be no establishment of one religious sect in preference to another;’ and section 5, which states, ‘no person shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil… right…because of religious principles.’
“It is wrong for any government to deny any person the privilege of worshipping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his conscience or to any person any civil right because of religious principles. Today, we can right those wrongs by voting for Marriage Equality.
“In the Judiciary Committee, we heard the most heart wrenching human stories of pain and suffering inflicted by our current civil union law. Loved ones have been denied access to hospitals rooms, denied the right to make burial arrangements, turned down for health and pension benefits, because of our separate but unequal civil union law. A young girl embarrassed and confused because she couldn’t say her parents were married; a young boy who contemplated suicide because he was held to be abnormal, because he’s gay.
“These social injustices will not go away overnight if we pass marriage equality, but they will go away. If we don’t pass marriage equality, they’ll continue to cause unnecessary pain and suffering – until we do.
“This week, I received the following e-mail message from Assemblyman Michael Carroll regarding the book I am collaborating on entitled – The Power of Love: The Case for Gay Marriage: ‘I look forward to the section which demonstrates, in an intellectually and logically consistent matter, why the state should give a rat’s patoot about ‘‘love!’’
“Here’s my answer to Assemblyman Carroll about why we should give a rat’s patoot about love and why I believe you should vote for marriage equality. It’s summed up in the following passage from the bible:
(first letter of john; chapter 3 verses18,23&24) 1 John 3:18, 23-24
“‘My dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God. Everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’
“I do believe as elected officials we need to think long and hard about the lack of love in our deliberations, in our beliefs, and in our relationships with each other.
“What’s love got to do with it? Everything. It’s 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, often causes unequal and oftentimes painful treatment of loving gay couples. Marriage Equality will take away that unequal treatment, which is required under the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, 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 have 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. To guarantee these couples those rights, as required by the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, and to relieve them of the fear of and pain from being denied those rights, I urge you to also vote yes for Marriage Equality.
“After the Senate Judiciary Committee released Marriage Equality for a floor vote, I received the following email:
“‘so, there’s this man that i know….
“‘he is 43 years old. he’s always faced challenges in his life. born into poverty. always suffered from illnesses such as asthma, allergies, skin conditions, etc. he is the oldest of four children. so, no matter what, he has had to be role model without anyone asking him. he has stepped into the role of father, brother, teacher, mentor and friend for his three younger siblings. he went on to college and then business school without anyone’s academic or financial help. through my eyes, he is perfect. he is one of the most loving and generous men i have ever met. he is a great man, he is my brother. a man that i love immensely. from the very bottom of my heart, thank you for fighting for his rights.
“‘Thank you for fighting for him.’”