TRENTON – In remarks delivered before the full Senate, Senate President Steve Sweeney today called on his colleagues to pass S1, which would establish marriage equality in New Jersey. Senate President Sweeney asked that those who support marriage equality not cave to political pressure, but do the right thing. “Our votes today may be cast as ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but in history they will be forever recorded as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’,” said Sweeney. “There is no third option.”
A copy of the Senate President’s full remarks are below.
John Lewis is right.
When he came to New Jersey two weeks ago, the famed civil rights leader perfectly described the issue of marriage equality.
“I think the day will come in New Jersey and all across our country,” he said, “when we will look back on this period and say, ‘We were just silly.'”
But it’s not the heart-felt testimonies of those for whom the promises of civil unions have failed that are silly.
Nor are the tears of those who just want to be treated as equals.
Not even the over-the-top dramatics by politicians or the name-calling.
What is silly is that we actually have to debate something as elementary as equal protection under the law for all residents.
Over the past six weeks, I have heard reasons and arguments for marriage equality that have only strengthened my belief that passage of this bill is the right thing, and the just thing.
I have heard from couples who have been failed by civil union’s false promise of equality … and from the legal community that recognizes the holes in our current law cannot be fixed.
It is time for us to own up to fact…civil unions are a failed experiment.
They do not promote equality, they only prolong stigma.
There is only one solution: marriage, in word and in deed, for all.
Yet from the opponents of equality I have not heard any reasoned arguments.
I have only heard the fears and excuses.
But those who worry that the traditions of their churches, temples and synagogues will be undone have nothing to fear at all.
Marriage equality is not about religion.
It never was, it never will be.
We cannot discriminate against communities of faith by forcing them to embrace marriage equality if it goes against their core religious tenets and teachings.
But, we similarly cannot allow those religious communities to push their beliefs upon those that do wish to embrace equality.
This law would enable all communities of faith to do what is in line with their teachings, beliefs, and yes, traditions.
We need look no further than our neighbors to the north for the reality check that marriage equality builds stronger communities and states.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont – each recognizes full marriage equality.
And the sky has not fallen in any of these states.
Each has recognized the benefits that can come only by recognizing all families as equal in stature.
We talk about family values…well it’s about time that we truly value families.
Lastly, to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, I know that there some of you who want to vote for marriage equality out of principle and because your conscience tells you it’s the right thing to do.
I also know you have been confronted with political retribution for doing so.
But when marriage equality was enacted in New York and more recently in Washington State, it could not have done so without the support of courageous Republicans who bucked their party bosses because they knew they had to do the right thing.
Those who did were hailed as heroes not just in New York and Washington, but across the country.
You could be that hero.
You could be that person who, when our great-great-grand-kids are looking back at this moment one hundred years from now, is singled out for having done a remarkable thing for justice and equality.
Our votes today may be cast as “yes” or “no,” but in history they will be forever recorded as “right” and “wrong.”
There is no third option.
So now is your moment.
Now is your time to stand up and say yes, I hear the pleas of those who want nothing more than to be treated fairly and equitably.
And I stand firmly with them.
Many of you have heard me say this, but it bears repeating.
In words that were used to eulogize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the time is always ripe to do that which is right and that which needs to be done.
The words are just as true now as they were 44 years ago.
I know many of you deep down know this is absolutely the right thing to do.
I can tell you based on experience, failing to do the right thing and knowing it is a horrible feeling that eats at you every second of every day.
Yes, if you vote against this measure you might keep your elected position and keep the support of those who are important to your ability to maintain office and push through legislation.
But at what cost?
Isn’t it more important that we as elected representatives did something that truly changed people’s lives for the better?
I am not talking about tax policy, or paved roads or ribbon cuttings.
I am talking about real, true change in the way we treat each other as human beings.
The kind of change that will ripple across the nation and echo through the ages.
John Lewis is right.
“If two men want to fall in love and get married, or two women, it’s their business,” he said. “It’s not the role of the federal government or the state government to intervene. It’s a question of human dignity, a question of human rights.”
Please…do the right thing and support this bill.