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Weinberg Opening Statement On Moving Marriage Equality Act Legislation

TRENTON – Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) made the following statement before introducing S1967, the Marriage Equality Act. The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee today by a vote of 7-6:

“Mr. Chairman, I would like to personally thank you for living up to your commitment by posting this bill today.

“I also want to thank all my colleagues for the care and consideration they’ve given to this important issue.

“It’s no secret that some of us support this bill, and others do not. To those senators who cannot in good faith or conscience vote in favor of marriage equality, I hope you believe me when I say: I might disagree wholeheartedly with you, but I respect the process by which you arrived at your position. And what’s more, I respect you.

“To those of my colleagues who have been grappling with this issue, and who walked into this hearing room this afternoon, uncertain of how they will vote, I want to convey my heartfelt appreciation and admiration.

“I understand that this is not an easy vote. It would be hard enough if we were being asked to deliberate on the divide between church and state, or the rights of minorities, or the meaning of equality.

“But today, we’re being asked to deliberate on all of these questions at once.

“I never thought I’d say it, but it might be easier to be on the Budget Committee today than the Judiciary Committee.

“If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, I’d like to explain the path that I traveled to sponsoring the Marriage Equality Act.

“As many of you know, I was married for 39 years to Irwin Weinberg.

“Irwin was the love of my life.

“If you were lucky enough to have met Irwin, you would know that he was a wonderful man, a wonderful father, and would have been a wonderful grandfather.

“Losing Irwin was the hardest adversity I ever faced, but I’m lucky to have had him in my life for as long as I did.

“What we’re voting on today is the right of every citizen to have what Irwin and I had.

“The right to live with the person you love, in full peace and security.

“The right to know that when your partner is sick, or when your child is sick, you won’t have to fight with nameless bureaucrats over power of attorney.

“The right to attend a parent-teacher conference without having to offer excuses and explanations.

“The right to wear a wedding ring and enjoy the full dignity and recognition that comes with that magical word, marriage, just like Irwin and I did.

“In this country, we do not accord some people full civil rights, and other people, half civil rights.

“President Kennedy framed the issue with timeless eloquence in 1963.

“He said: ‘We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.’

“I fully understand that there are some members of this committee for whom marriage is a deeply religious institution, with carefully drawn definitions and limits.

“But we are not a Catholic country, or a Protestant country.

“We are not a Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu county.

“We are a country governed by laws that ensure equality and fairness for every individual.

“Let me give you an example.

“I am a practicing Jew.

“Some rabbis recognize and perform same-sex marriages.

“Other rabbis – from the more orthodox communities – do not.

“It is not the function of this committee – it is not the prerogative of this committee – to decide which rabbis are right, and which rabbis are wrong.

“This Legislature cannot choose the definition of marriage preferred by some faiths, over the definition preferred by others.

“We must check our own religious beliefs at the committee-room door and live up to the promise of our state constitution.

“Article I, Section 1 of our state constitution reads clearly and simply:

“‘All persons are by nature free and independent, and have certain natural and unalienable rights, among which are … pursuing … safety and happiness.’

“Not long ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court instructed the Legislature to extend to same-sex couples all of the rights and privileges that heterosexual couples already enjoy.

“The Legislature made a good-faith effort to meet that mandate by passing a civil union law, which I sponsored.

“There were those of us who believed that this was a half-measure, that civil unions were a modern-day variant on the ‘separate-but-equal’ laws that brought so much shame on our country, not that long ago.

“But whether you agreed with this position or not, the evidence is clear: civil unions have not worked.

“Same-sex couples are facing patterns of discrimination.

“The citizens of New Jersey recognize that the time for this law has come: most polls show that a majority supports marriage equality.

“Our young people recognize this: they overwhelmingly support the right of same-sex couples to marry.

“Our leading editorial pages recognize this: they have urged us to pass this very simple, but clearly urgent, piece of legislation.

“So the question is: why wait?

“Some people will make the claim that this is not the time for marriage equality; they’ll say it’s too controversial, too politically inexpedient.

“But if we listened to that kind of logic, slavery would not have been abolished by constitutional amendment in 1865.

“Women wouldn’t have won the right to vote in 1920.

“Whites and blacks wouldn’t have won the right to eat together, pray together and go to school together in the 1960s.

“Voting against emancipation, women’s suffrage and civil rights was the easy thing to do.

“Voting for freedom and equality was the hard thing to do.

“That was true then, and it’s true today.

“When we send our kids and grandkids to school, they don’t learn to revere the William Yanceys and Strom Thurmonds.

“They learn to revere Thaddeus Stevens, Jeanette Rankin, Hubert Humphrey, or Julian Bond.

“I know this is not an easy vote to cast. But when we placed our names on the ballot, we asked for this responsibility.

“And we do not have the right, nor the luxury, to deny people their civil rights because it is hard, or uncomfortable, to do otherwise.

“The vote you cast today will determine how you are remembered.

“But more importantly, it will determine whether tens of thousands of New Jerseyans are able to live in peace and happiness, the same way that other New Jerseyans have always been permitted to live their lives.

“I ask you to do something bigger than party, bigger than politics, and bigger than yourselves.

“When I cast my vote today, it will be in favor of marriage equality, because everyone deserves the same chance that Irwin and I had to build a life together, and to have our love sanctioned and recognized by the state.

“Mr. Chairman, as the proud sponsor, I move this bill.”

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