TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee on S1, legislation that would establish marriage equality in New Jersey. The Senate President stressed that this is solely about civil rights and fairness and, due to the bill’s exemptions, not about religious beliefs. He also cited the need to right inequality in the state, citing the failure of the current civil union law. The Senate President’s full testimony is below:
Equality, fairness and justice are the most basic of American principles.
Yet there remain Americans for whom these principles are not fully realized.
As long as it’s acceptable for some citizens to have different rights and benefits – and by definition, lesser than those of the majority – equality, fairness and justice will elude us as a society.
There is no more striking example of this inequality than the way our laws treat same-sex couples.
That is why I called for the first Senate bill of this new legislative session – S1 – to be devoted to achieving marriage equality in New Jersey.
Several years ago, we established civil unions for same-sex couples in New Jersey.
The law was, at the time, intended to ensure all the rights and benefits of marriage, but by a different name.
Yet confusion about what a civil union means still exists, and couples are still denied the rights we supposedly established for them.
Given that the intention of this law has never come to fruition for the people it was meant to benefit, it must be corrected.
Six states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York) have taken the step to legalize same-sex marriage.
And despite the naysayers, the sky has not fallen.
Nor will it when we enact marriage equality in New Jersey.
At least 10 countries recognize full marriage equality, including some of the most progressive, such as Belgium, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
But South Africa, a country that as recently as two decades ago had state-sanctioned racial discrimination, also has recognized same-sex unions as “marriage.”
Marriage equality also is the law in Argentina, Portugal and Spain.
If three of the most observantly Catholic nations in the world can recognize the union of same-sex couples as the marriages they are, there is no reason New Jersey should lag.
Moreover, we recognize that for many, marriage is a religious institution.
That’s why protections are written into the law allowing clergy and those who oppose same-sex marriage as a matter of faith to decline to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.
But still, at its core, this issue is not about religion…it is about civil rights.
I respect everyone’s right to worship as they want to worship and believe as they want to believe.
But those who wish to be protected by that right must also extend it to everyone else.
That means everyone…not certain select groups or individuals…everyone!
I think Ron Paul…yes, that Ron Paul, might have summed it up best when he wrote: “Why not tolerate everyone’s definition as long as neither side uses force to impose its views on the other? Problem solved!”
While I would hope that ultimately the various religious groups that oppose this civil right will one day open their minds and hearts, there is nothing in this legislation that would force them to do so.
Once this becomes law, nothing changes for any religion in New Jersey.
I give full credit to Senators Weinberg and Lesniak for crafting legislation that recognizes civil rights, but doesn’t force onto any group a change in their beliefs or tenants.
And because of how they have structured the bill, frankly, there is no just or sensible reason for opposition to it.
Lastly, for those who haven’t made up their mind or who are leaning towards voting no, I ask you, please take a closer look.
What we are trying to accomplish is solely a matter of basic civil rights.
Nothing more, nothing less.
How would you feel if your government told you you couldn’t marry the person you loved because of who you chose to love?
We are past that time in our history…or at least we should be.
And for those of you who in the past have spoken out against marriage equality, it is not too late.
In words that were used to eulogize Dr. Martin Luther King, “the time (is) always ripe to do that which is right and that which needs to be done.”
Well marriage equality is right and it needs to be done.
Please take a closer look…and do the right thing.
Vote in favor of marriage equality and make New Jersey and the nation one step closer to being a truly equal and fair society.