TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, issued the following remarks today in support of S-1, her bill to allow same-sex couples in New Jersey to be married under the same protections and classification offered to opposite-sex couples:
“Thank you, Mr. President, for posting this bill, and for having the courage to stand up for the rights of same-sex couples in New Jersey.
“I’d also like to thank my co-sponsor and “Odd Couple” friend, Raymond Lesniak, for fighting this fight with me to ensure all New Jerseyans can get married, regardless of their sexual orientation. Raymond, you have been a true partner from the beginning of this long road and we appreciate your support and encouragement every step of the way.
“The civil union law in New Jersey is flawed, the protections for same-sex couples vague and undefined, and recognition of the law stops at the State border.
“The word marriage is society’s universal, civil and legal acknowledgement of a loving relationship – the same legal and civil recognition that my late husband Irwin and I enjoyed throughout our almost 40-year marriage. Next week will be the 13th anniversary of his passing, and when I go to my synagogue to say my prayers during that service, I know that the bill we are considering today is for my Rabbi and fellow congregants’ right to practice our religion as he and they see fit.
“We’ve heard, from our constituents, our neighbors and our friends about how the law treats same-sex couples differently than it does opposite-sex couples. We’ve listened to hours upon hours of heart-wrenching testimony, in both Houses of the Legislature, about how the civil union law does not work, and ends up marginalizing same-sex partners and their families when the law’s protections are needed most.
“Today, with the passage of this bill, we will be taking a step in the right direction to correct this inequality. It’s time for New Jersey to get on the right side of history and enact true marriage equality for every one of its residents.
“I recognize that the bill has its detractors – some in this very room and some right down the hallway – who would fight the inevitable march of progress on marriage equality for personal or maybe even political reasons.
“They claim religious exclusivity on the institution of marriage, as if people cannot be married outside of the church, or any one denomination has sole dominion over the sanctity of marriage. They hide behind a veil of ‘family values,’ and cite fears that a marriage equality law will require them to address the seemingly controversial issue of homosexuality within their own families.
“If you don’t believe in gay marriage, don’t enter into a gay marriage. It’s really as simple as that.
“Because when it comes down to it, the marriage of two committed, consenting people in love, be they straight or gay, should make zero difference to the rest of the world. This bill absolutely maintains every one’s rights to adhere to the tenets of their individual faith and exercise their own religious freedoms and preserves the rights of the individual over the mandate of the majority.
“It clearly states that ‘no religious society, institution or organization in this State serving a particular faith or denomination shall be compelled to provide space, services, advantages, goods or privileges related to the promotion of marriage if such promotion of marriage is in violation of the beliefs of such religious society, institution or organization.’ In other words, the religious entity does not have to provide any support for an individual who seeks the promotion of gay marriage.
“Who are we to say that basic equal rights should be denied to any class of citizen, simply because we’re uncomfortable with the nature of their relationship? The State should not be in the business of legally sanctioning homophobia by conferring separate but equal status to the legal recognition of a union between two people. And that’s what the perpetuation of the civil union law amounts to – government-sanctioned, legally justified homophobia.
“We need to recognize that objection to marriage equality isn’t steeped in conservative values…it’s steeped in prejudice.
“Former U.S. Solicitor-General Ted Olson, the lead lawyer for the suit to reject California’s Proposition 8 – which defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman – made the best conservative case for marriage equality when he wrote: ‘Legalizing same-sex marriage would also be a recognition of basic American principles, and would represent the culmination of our nation’s commitment to equal rights. It is, some have said, the last major civil-rights milestone yet to be surpassed in our two-century struggle to attain the goals we set for this nation at its formation. This bedrock American principle of equality is central to the political and legal convictions of Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives alike.’
“He later went on to say that ‘gay marriage is family values.’ And that’s coming from someone who served in George W. Bush’s administration.
“Representative Maureen Walsh, a Republican representing Washington State’s 16th District, said during that State’s debate on marriage equality just last week: ‘How can I deny anyone the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life? To me, it seems almost cruel.’
“These are the leaders in the Republican party who recognize that supporting marriage equality is the moral thing to do. I know we will have some cross-party support for this bill today in the New Jersey State Senate. I’m grateful for my colleagues who will vote their consciences.
“To those who may still be on the fence… I urge you – I implore you – to join with us on the right side of history and support this bill today.
“It’s not enough to say we will put the idea to a ballot question, and let the will of the people direct us. The will of the people is already on display, in this House. We were elected by the people to represent their interests and lead – not abdicate leadership and cut and run when the job gets hard.
“Subjecting the equal rights of same-sex couples to the whims of the majority – and to the multi-million dollar campaign which will inevitably precede the vote from special interests nationwide, intent on preserving the status quo – to me, that’s offensive and unprecedented.
“New Jersey has never adopted equal protection and rights for people through initiative and referendum. In fact, the last time it was tried, in 1915, voters rejected a woman’s right to vote by a 2-to-1 margin. Women didn’t get the vote until the adoption and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 – achieved through Congressional action and ratified by the New Jersey Legislature, not the voters, in February of that year – just about 92 years ago this month.
“So I ask you, each of you, today to look into your hearts and follow your consciences on the issue of marriage equality. Will you side with institutional prejudice, social injustice and cultural inertia and vote this bill down? Or will you recognize, as I have, and as others in this chamber have, that people should be judged by the love in their heart, and not the gender of their lover?
“Stand up to the Governor, not because of political calculations or fear of retribution, but because it’s the right thing to do on this issue. With enough votes in the future, we can override the Governor’s eventual veto, and can do right by New Jersey’s same-sex couples who are being denied basic equal rights under the current law.
“For my part, my vote will be cast for love.
“I will cast my vote in the names of my grandchildren’s uncles, Nelson and David.
“I will cast my vote in honor of my good friends, Steven and Daniel, and Jane and Pam, and Tim and Kevin.
“I will cast my vote in honor of my cousin Steven.
“I will cast my vote for the Holden and Gallucio family. For Madison, Adam and their loving grandfather.
“And most importantly, I will cast my vote in honor of my grandchildren, Shayna and Jonah, who should be able to grow up in a world in which love, not fear and hatred, is the law of the land.
“Mr. President, in their honor, and the many, many New Jerseyans who would enjoy equal rights under this legislation, I gladly move the bill.”