Strategic rescheduling of New Jersey’s marriage debate

H/T Blue Jersey.  New Jersey’s marriage equality bill has jumped one of four hurdles: it passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday on a 7-6 vote.  The three remaining hurdles are a vote in the Senate, a vote in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, and a vote in the Assembly.  Plans were to take the Senate vote tomorrow, but that has now changed.  At the request of bill sponsors Sen. Weinberg and Sen. Lesniak, Senate president Cody has agreed to hold the Senate vote until the bill gets a crack at those two Assembly-related hurdles.  Here’s the current thinking on the situation, courtesy Zach Fink at NJN News.  

In yet another extraordinary development in the debate over gay marriage, supporters are now calling on Senate President Dick Codey to hold the bill during Thursday’s Senate voting session.

In a letter to Codey from Senator Loretta Weinberg who is a prime sponsor of the bill, she asks that the Assembly be given an opportunity to consider the legislation coming off of Monday night’s hearing in the Senate Judiciary committee.

Supporters of the gay marriage bill say that although it passed only narrowly by a vote of 7-6 Monday night, it was historic in nature. They argue that many more people want to be heard on this issue. In addition, a sweeping amendment by Republican Senator Bill Baroni was introduced that would exempt religious groups and institutions from having to perform same sex marriage. ( btw – opponents of gay marriage say the Baroni amendment doesn’t actually do much, nor does it grant protections that are not already outlined in the constitution )

A Democratic insider who is close to the negotiations says they are “confident momentum is on their side.”

What does this all mean?  This does seem likely:

Here is the bottom line: the votes are not there in the Senate. And it appears as though they are there in the Assembly – to clear the both the Judiciary committee and to pass the full house. Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts is unlikely to give dates for the upcoming hearing and subsequent floor debate, but I understand it could be early January.

Initially, members of the Assembly had said they would not consider gay marriage until the Senate passed the bill. That thinking seems to have now been turned on its head.

Garden State Equality is asking people planning to rally at the State House Thursday to still do that.  Now is the time to ramp up pressure, not slack off.  If all goes well in the Assembly, the pressure will be even greater on the Senate to pass the bill.

I’m pitching this new motto for the state:

New Jersey – Never a Dull Moment!Here’s the statement prime bill sponsor Sen. Loretta Weinberg (via email from GSE).

This afternoon, Senator Ray Lesniak and I requested that Senate President Richard J. Codey hold Senate Bill 1967.  We also requested that Speaker Joseph Roberts schedule a meeting for the Assembly Judiciary Committee on A2978, popularly known as the Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act.

In light of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s historic passage of S1967, Senator Lesniak and I believe that the public needs another opportunity to engage legislators on this issue.  Moreover, the Senate committee has substantially amended its version to include sweeping, additional protections for religious institutions.   We believe that members of the public need to be afforded an additional opportunity to debate this new provision as well.

Tuesday’s Senate hearing was extraordinary.  Hundreds of citizens lined up outside the committee chambers to offer testimony on behalf of, and in opposition to, the proposed legislation.  Under the leadership of Chairman Sarlo, who conducted one of the most thoughtful and fair-minded hearings in which either of us has ever participated, the committee spent seven hours hearing from scores of New Jerseyans.  We had to turn away another 150 witnesses for want of time.  In addition to the committee hearing, thousands of citizens, and dozens of religious and secular organizations, have engaged our members in a thoughtful and productive dialogue on marriage equality.

Accordingly, as sponsors of S1967, we asked Senator Codey to postpone full Senate consideration of the Marriage Equality Act until the Assembly Speaker has an opportunity to review scheduling the Assembly Judiciary Committee for a hearing.

We thank Senator Codey for his leadership. Marriage equality is a difficult and challenging question for members from both sides of the aisle. Throughout this debate, he has been balanced and evenhanded in his treatment of all Senators.  For this, he has our deepest gratitude.    #

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