Christie's Same-Sex Marriage Proposal Sparks Controversy

New Jerseyans and lawmakers debate the governor's handling of the political hot potato


The Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act advanced this week in Trenton, when the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-4 in favor of it.  Though it was an encouraging sign for supporters of the bill, Gov. Christie has vowed to veto any marriage equality bill that reaches his desk.  Instead this week he suggested putting the issue on the ballot and settling the matter by public referendum. 

Not surprisingly, there has been some outcry to Christie’s proposed handling of the controversial issue, which many people liken to tossing the political hot potato into the hands of the people.

“I find it extremely offensive that Christie suggests the matter should be open to public referendum,” stated Bloomfield attorney CJ Griffin, a former legal intern of the Civil Union Review Commission (CURC) at the NJ Division on Civil Rights. “Basic civil rights should never, ever be up for a vote. Can you imagine the lack of progress we would have in this country if we had allowed each of the 50 states to vote on the various pieces of civil rights legislation in the 1960's?  We would be a totally different country. Certain human rights should not be based on the whims, emotions, or prejudices of the populace.”

“A public referendum?  On an issue of civil rights?  Are you kidding?” outraged blogger and pastor Eliot Daly wrote in the Huffington Post. 

“The normally blunt-speaking Governor . . . expressed his serene confidence that the people of the state would do the right thing as surely, and perhaps even more surely, than the legislature. Oh, please, Governor. Tell us you don't really believe that.

“The duplicity of his rationale is insulting. Everyone knows Christie is a really smart guy, plenty smart enough to know that we Americans for centuries have been perfectly happy to inflict pain on our fellow citizens whom we disdain.”

But there are those who believe Christie is doing the right thing.

"I agree with the Governor that this should go to referendum.  The people of New Jersey should decide on this issue," declared Bloomfield resident Sue Ann Penna, Executive Director of the grassroots organization, Citizens for Limited Government.

Christine James, a Montclair resident, concurred.  "I think it's great that he is willing to put it to a vote instead of legislation deciding.  The people really need a direct voice on this issue to be truly represented and recognized."

Some lawmakers, including Senate President Stephen Sweeney, believe it will never come down to a public referendum.  Dismissing the very notion at Tuesday’s hearing, Sweeney quipped, “We vote on issues here. We don’t put civil rights on the ballot.”

his remarks followed a rally by supporters of same sex marriage that was so well-attended the overflow crowd filled a second committee hearing room in the Statehouse Annex.

“Numerous people who entered into civil unions, which passed in December 2006 in response to a state Supreme Court ruling that New Jersey had to stop discriminating against gay couples, said that law is not working and they are still discriminated against, particularly in the area of healthcare,” stated the article.

Montclair Mayor Jerry Fried expressed the sentiment that New Jersey will follow other states where same-sex marriage has been legalized, on the grounds that it is unconstitutional to prevent it.

"It's much better if the legislature does it, but marriage equality WILL happen in NJ, and soon," said the mayor.

In the meantime, until a floor vote on the matter is taken in March, a protracted political standoff is likely.  While recent polls show a majority of New Jerseyans support the right of same-sex couples to wed, the numbers on both sides of the issue are close enough to keep lawmakers deadlocked on the issue.  According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, fifty-two percent of Garden State voters think same-sex couples should have the right to marry, while forty-two percent think they should not.


Shelley Emling contributed to this article.

Laura Federico January 29, 2012 at 08:47 PM
You know if all else fails, we can always fall back on the old Golden Rule, which is expressed in most, if not all, religions as "love thy neighbor as thyself," regardless of the exact terminology used. That is always a great guide, in my opinion. And so then it doesn't become a matter of "don't compare blacks with gays" or "if gays can't marry because they can't procreate, then what about sterile [or sterilized] heterosexuals?" etc. It becomes a matter of, if I wouldn't want it done to me, I shouldn't do it to someone else.
Tracey Stephens January 29, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Of course you are entitled to your belief and to be guided by what your faith teaches you. This bill does not "force you to go against your faith". But you do not have the right to force your faith on those who have a different belief. You'll notice the full name of the bill is "The Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act" which means that clergy would be granted the right to perform marriage ceremonies for all members of their congregations but they are not required to and would be exempt if their faith is opposed to marriage for same sex couples. However it is not true that all faiths or religions are opposed to marriage equality. I attended the hearings in Trenton on Tuesday and there was a very large contingent of clergy passionately testifying in support of the bill. And they were actually quite angry that the state is interfering with their right to legally perform weddings for committed couples in their congregations. By the way, the last time a civil right was put on the ballot in NJ was 1915 when the citizens of NJ decided women should not have the right to vote.
John January 30, 2012 at 03:23 AM
I can't believe how simple this is and the folks are not getting it wow ..:(
T-Bagger January 30, 2012 at 06:49 PM
How about getting government out of the marriage business all together. Just leave the issue of marriage up to whatever religion you choose. It used to be that way.
Occidentalist January 30, 2012 at 06:59 PM
What about those who don't have a religion? What about those who can't afford the "donation" fee many churches charge for marriage services? The government is there, for instance a town mayor, to perform marriage services to those who don't belong to religions or who are discriminated against by religion. The reason the government needs to perform this function is because marriage is a legally binding contract with all sorts of legalese attached to it. There's also the issue that as tax exempt institutions, religion is subsidized by the government and thus by we taxpayers. Churches utilize the police and fire departments which they do not pay taxes to support. Churches are the biggest beneficiaries of socialist type services in this country. So why should we let organizations that do not pay taxes but enjoy the benefits of taxpayer funded services, be allowed to discriminate and decide who is allowed to get married and who isn't?


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