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If the Governor Will Veto Your Marriage Equality Bill, Why Bother?

Earlier this week New Jersey’s Senate Judiciary Committee approved the marriage equality bill (S1) with an 8 to 4 vote. Shortly thereafter Governor Chris Christie (R) reiterated his earlier promise that he will veto the bill should it reach his desk. At a press conference after the Judiciary Committee’s historic vote, a reporter asked Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), one of the bill’s champions, “why bother?” Here’s why (starting at 2:20):

Reporter: Senator Sweeney, would you comment on this veto promise of the Governor as to what the point is of even going through this exercise?

Senator Sweeney: The point of going through a fight for civil rights? Are you kidding me? For standing up for people to give them the same rights? I’m offended by that.

The Governor’s a governor. He’s got his opinion. But there are many Republicans — because I’ve spoken to them — that want to vote for this bill. Now, if the Governor wants to stifle and silence his colleagues that’s one thing, but he’s not going to stifle or silence us. Someone has to stand up for equality and fairness.

You know, I apologized in the past, but I’m telling you right now, I’m fighting to get this done. And if we have to go for an override we’ll work every angle we possibly have to. But right now it’s about getting it onto his desk.

And it’s offensive for anyone to think, why bother if the Governor doesn’t want to do it. Well guess what? He’s wrong on this one.

You know his announcement today was to try to put a damper on what we’re trying to do. It’s not happening. We’re not walking away, we’re not backing down, we’re not giving up. This is about civil rights, period.

If Sen. Sweeney’s uncompromising stand for civil rights isn’t a testament to the power of telling our stories, nothing is. Two years ago Sen. Sweeney killed a marriage equality bill by abstaining on a crucial vote. This year, he’s not only championing marriage equality legislation, he emphasized its importance by making sure it was the first bill filed this legislative session (bill number “S1”) and has fast-tracked it.

The real question to ask regarding the Governor’s promised veto isn’t “why bother”, it’s “how do we make that veto irrelevant”. Steven Goldstein, Garden State Equality‘s Chair and CEO explains the marriage equality proponents’ brilliant multi-pronged approach:

Our entire plan this go-round has included the assumption of a veto. We have a methodical plan: First pass the bill. Then endure the veto. Then work on an override vote.

Two things we can’t forget therein: First, we have got to pass the bill. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we’re working for 21 votes in the Senate and 41 votes in the Assembly. We’re optimistic, but we cannot be complacent. The talk of an override, frankly, is meshuga when we must focus on passing the bill first. Stay focused.

Secondly, we will have all the time we need to methodically achieve an override. After a veto, there is no time limit in New Jersey on how long the legislature has to override a veto, other than the end of the legislative session. The current legislative session, which began only this month, will end in January 2014. Look how the world has changed – and how you helped to change it – since the last vote. Our support in the legislature has increased dramatically. Stunningly. We’ll get that override with time and careful work. But right now, friends, it’s about passing the bill and getting it to the Governor’s desk.

And let’s not forget that Garden State Equality pursues all roads to justice. Represented by our friends at Lambda Legal and the fantastic Gibbons law firm, we also have a lawsuit making its way through the courts.

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Laurel Ramseyer

Laurel Ramseyer