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Reactions to the New Jersey marriage bill defeat

H/t Blue Jersey for providing Steven Goldstein’s (Garden State Equality) response.  This isn’t over.  The 14-20 vote against marriage equality isn’t the final word on the issue.  We’re going back to court.

With today’s vote in the state Senate, the New Jersey legislature defaulted on its constitutional obligation to provide same-sex couples in New Jersey equal protection, as unanimously mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2006.  That’s why we at Garden State Equality are here with our partner Lambda Legal, which has an extraordinary track record of advancing LGBT civil rights in the courts.

Now our organizations will announce major news.  Our side is going back to court to win marriage equality.

Continued after the fold.

We’ll hear from Lambda Legal in a moment.   Let’s be clear about what this news means.  We are not waiting out the term of any new Administration to bring equality to same-sex couples in our state.  

In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court told the legislature it could enact marriage or another structure that provides the equal protection of marriage.  But the civil union law failed to do that.   Too often, civil union couples too often cannot visit loved ones in hospitals, make medical decisions for their partners or receive equal health benefits from employers.   Hospitals and employers have treated civil union couples differently because they’ve been labeled differently.   Children have been treated differently at school because their families are labeled differently.  

In recent months, including today and at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in December, New Jersey legislators publicly recognized these failures.  They publicly acknowledged that the civil union law has not provided equal protection.  That’s important.  New Jersey legislators themselves said it.  Our opponents in the legislature said it.

In other words, though we didn’t achieve our final victory today, we’re better positioned than we were a few months ago to win marriage equality.  So if you’re wondering how we feel, it’s complicated.   On the one hand, we resent, more than you can imagine, remaining second-class citizens a bit longer.  On the other hand, the ball has moved forward.  The public record for the courts is mighty, and we’re closer than ever to winning.

In 2006, New Jersey enacted an experiment called civil union.  In 2010, New Jersey has a mountain of proof that the experiment has failed.  

Now let’s talk about what happened politically.    

Things didn’t go our way in the legislature because of one factor:  Governor Corzine lost reelection.  

After his win in November, Governor-elect Christie persuaded a number of legislators to reverse their support of the bill.   Before the election, nearly every neutral observer in New Jersey thought marriage equality was certain to become law in lame duck.  It became the zeitgeist in Trenton, with good reason.  In contrast to today’s outcome, before the election we had votes to spare in the Senate, including from a number of Republicans.

But the election changed everything and our national opponents changed nothing.  They didn’t do much or spend much in New Jersey.   As you saw from our thousands of members at the State House these past few weeks who symbolized the massiveness of our campaign, we overwhelmed our opponents on every front – but one.   Our opponents had the Governor-elect on their side, and that’s all they needed to have.   It’s ironic given that marriage equality wasn’t even an issue in the election, and that the candidates who favored marriage equality together won a majority.

All this said, we extend to Governor-elect Christie an outstretched hand.   He will be the Governor of all of us.   We ask him to continue the tradition of his Republican predecessors, Christie Whitman and Tom Kean, who always kept an open door to the LGBT community.   And though we differ with the Governor-elect on marriage equality, we also seek to explore with him and his Administration the issues on which we may have agreement and can work together.  

No political party should write off any constituency.  And no party should take any constituency for granted either.   Our fundamental right to equality should never have been left to sudden death overtime by the party to which the LGBT community and our allies have been unstintingly loyal and have given so much.  

To be clear, we will continue to support those who support us.   Over the past five-and-a-half years, the separate Garden State Equality political committee has provided thousands of campaign volunteers and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for supportive candidates through contributions to the organization, or through contributions from individuals directly to candidates.

Of course, when we exceed politicians’ expectations in ways they like, we never hear, you’re going too far, your fervor is too much.  That double standard, which other minority communities have heard in their own fights for equality, hurts deeply.   And it hurts everyone who stands for equality, including supporters in the majority.

Now there will be a sustained response not only from the LGBT community, but also from straight progressive voters who have been our equal partners.  Marriage equality stopped being just a gay issue long ago.

To those who let us all down, here’s our policy:  Don’t ask, don’t expect.   You can’t take progressives’ money and volunteers with one hand, slap us in the face with the other, and then act astonished when we declare our independence.   The marketplace of democracy runs along a two-way street.    

Members and friends, today was not an outcome lost, but rather a juncture in an otherwise glorious road to justice.   Since Garden State Equality’s founding in 2004, New Jersey has enacted 210 LGBT civil rights laws at the state, county and local levels, a national record.  We have 64,000 members – LGBT and straight alike – who have improved the lives of millions.   A watchdog organization,, just ranked New Jersey #1 in America for LGBT rights, tied with three other states, and we haven’t even won marriage equality yet.  

But we will soon.  Cesar Chavez said it best.  You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.  You cannot humiliate the people who feel pride.  You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.  We have seen the future, and the future is ours.

Before I introduce our colleagues from Lambda Legal, some thanks are in order.  Thank you to all our Senate sponsors, including prime sponsors Loretta Weinberg and Raymond Lesniak.  We appreciate Loretta and Raymond beyond measure for their indefatigable leadership, and extend to them our love.   We thank Senators Bill Baroni and Nia Gill – unwavering voices for justice at our committee hearing.   We thank all our Assembly sponsors, including prime sponsors Reed Gusciora, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, John McKeon and Mila Jasey.   We thank our Governor Corzine and Speaker Roberts for their support.  And let me say this about Governor Dick Codey:  He’s been an extraordinary champion of equality who kept his word about a Senate vote.  Every progressive in New Jersey should view Governor Codey as a hero.

MassEquality’s Executive Director, Scott D. Gortikov (via email):

Today, the New Jersey Senate voted 20-14 against the marriage equality bill that MassEquality, in partnership with Garden State Equality, worked hard to pass.  It might seem heartbreaking how the hard work in New Jersey fell short, but there is much hope to be gained from this well-fought battle.

Garden State Equality overcame incredible odds in the legislature to have today’s vote.  This shows marriage equality is not an issue that can be ignored in the Garden State or anywhere in America.  Even our opponents admit that the LGBT movement continues to make a powerful statement with our formidable grassroots effort.

MassEquality is proud of the work we accomplished with our brothers and sisters in New Jersey.  Making over 4,200 calls to key districts and providing a seasoned political operative on the ground, MassEquality was there every step of the way.  We do not consider the vote today a loss but rather a tremendous opportunity to continue the fight with more knowledge, power, and gravitas than ever before.

We are thankful for your help and support in this continued effort for full equality under the law.

Human Rights Campaign

New Jersey Senate Rejects Marriage Bill for Same-Sex Couples

The loss underscores that civil unions are not the equivalent of marriage


WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, today expressed disappointment with the New Jersey State Senate for its failure to pass legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples.   The senate voted 14-20 against the bill.  The bill had passed out of the Judiciary Committee by a 7 to 6 vote this past December.

“Today’s vote by the New Jersey Senate perpetuates a system of inequality in the Garden State,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.  “Failing to provide loving, committed couples access to marriage leaves them separate and unequal – civil unions are not the same as marriage.”

“HRC provided tremendous help here on the ground, working with our staff and volunteers to push for marriage equality,” said Steven Goldstein, CEO of Garden State Equality. “While we’re disappointed by today’s vote, we’re thankful for the continued support of the Human Rights Campaign. This is not the end of the line. We will continue working towards marriage equality through lobbying, legal challenges, and citizen outreach. Every opportunity to highlight the inequalities experienced by same-sex couples brings us closer to our goal.”

At this time, five states recognize marriage for same-sex couples under state law: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  Five states-California, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada-plus Washington, D.C. provide same-sex couples with access to the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Wisconsin provide same-sex couples with limited rights and benefits.  New York and Washington, D.C. recognize marriages of same-sex couples validly entered into outside of the jurisdiction.

California recognized marriage by same-sex couples between June and November of 2008, before voters approved Proposition 8, which purports to amend the state constitution to prohibit marriage equality.  Couples married during that window remain married under California law, but all other same-sex couples can only receive a domestic partnership within the state. The state will recognize out of state same-sex marriages that occurred before November 5, 2008 as marriages and those that occurred on or after November 5, 2008 as domestic partnerships. The Proposition 8 vote has been challenged in federal court; a decision is not expected any time soon.

Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state.  For an electronic map showing where marriage equality stands in the states, please visit:

The Task Force:

Task Force responds to New Jersey marriage equality vote

January 07, 2010

Vows to keep fighting until fundamental freedom is attained

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 – The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force responded to the New Jersey Senate’s failure today to pass a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

“The New Jersey Legislature has let down the state and the nation by failing to uphold the promise of equality and the state Constitution’s demand that same-sex couples be treated equally. Denying this fundamental freedom to the people of New Jersey – loving, committed same-sex couples and their families – doesn’t protect anyone. This action by the Legislature simply places more families in harm’s way and makes them more vulnerable to discrimination and hardship.

“There is ample proof that New Jersey’s civil unions law fails to provide equal protection. We will never settle for second-class status for our community. We will continue fighting until full equality is attained, and this includes marriage.

“The tide is turning nationwide in favor of marriage equality, and we are confident that New Jersey will join the growing number of states that already extend marriage equality to same-sex couples. In New Jersey, and all across the nation, same-sex couples and their families are sharing their stories and their lives with others in a conversation that is transforming our country. That doesn’t end today. If anything, it inspires and compels us to press forward.

“We thank the senators who voted for equality today. We stand with Garden State Equality and thank it for its tremendous leadership and dogged organizing for equality in New Jersey. And we stand with Lambda Legal as it goes back to court to win this fundamental freedom.”

The Task Force’s work in New Jersey

The Task Force Action Fund has been working to secure marriage equality in New Jersey. This includes:

Committing three organizers to work full-time on the ground with Garden State Equality for the final two months of its advocacy campaign.

Giving $10,000 to Garden State Equality to hire additional field staff; dedicating organizers to work on the ground in New Jersey in November and December; and providing ongoing technical assistance to Garden State Equality’s field team to help implement its field plan.

Developing and co-leading a training with Garden State Equality staff to equip New Jersey volunteers with the skills to recruit volunteers and raise money to support the fight for marriage equality.

Bringing a team of New Jersey field leaders to the Task Force’s Maine LGBT Power Summit in April 2009.

Dedicating organizing fellows to work on the ground in New Jersey, and committing communications staff to spearhead earned media efforts in mid-December.

To learn more about the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, follow us on Twitter: @TheTaskForce.

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