A Cautious Man
April 09, 2009
Equal Marriage - "Stuck In The Mud Somewhere In The Swamps of Jersey"
A diary at Blue Jersey commented on what the recent legislation in Vermont may mean for equal marriage here in the Great State of New Jersey, where a similar bill is in the hopper, but stalled:

The Vermont debate was very public, following years of activism and a commission that "concluded that civil unions did not provide complete equality."

Sound familiar?

The vote was not expected to happen this year, however, because legislators thought "budget shortfalls caused by the crippled economy made this a poor time to tackle such a contentious, emotionally draining issue."

Again, sound familiar?

Not until after Town Meeting Day in March halfway through the legislative session did leaders declare that same-sex marriage would be a priority this year.

In just one month's time, they held hearings, passed the bill in the Senate, then the House, shipped it off to the governor and worked up to the final day to muster the votes needed to override his veto.

The wild card for New Jersey, of course, is this year's gubernatorial and Assembly elections, which have a habit of distorting issues. Are there enough Assembly members willing to stand up and be counted on same-sex marriage when doing so might imperil their electoral chances?

Unlike Vermont, just a bare majority is needed to get it done because Gov. Jon Corzine has said he'd sign marriage-equality legislation.

Reed Gusciora, a Democrat from Princeton, has a bill in the Assembly and there are some high-profile Senate supporters like Loretta Weinberg, a Bergen County Democrat. Plus, there are some Republicans in the Senate who are likely to vote in favor of marriage equality -- you know who you are.

Lawmakers are cautious characters by nature, generally viewing issues in vote counts and financial support. Supporters of same-sex marriage -- gay, lesbian, bi or straight -- need to make it clear that their votes count and that they expect their legislators to do what is write and to stand up and be counted.

I commented on that diary, just to point to some thoughts I had diaried there last December (and also posted here at Cautious HQ), when New Jersey's Civil Union Commission had reported back that civil unions were not an adequate substitute for marriage. I had argued at the time that the fact that the issue might be an issue in November should be a reason to act sooner, rather than later. One reason, I think is that (as I wrote in December): "Waiting for a 'lame duck' session after the 2009 gubernatorial and legislative election will not keep the issue from being discussed in that election. So, you don't gain anything there." I had also suggested that "if it has to be part of the 2009 election, let it be as passed and implemented legislation, and not as some not-yet-there, it-may-happen hypothetical. Thanks to the failure of Proposition 8 in California, people inclined to support equal marriage now know that it is possible that legal rights could be reversed." That might raise the importance of the issue to people inclined to support equal marriage.

Finally, I had suggested: "The design and drafting of this legislation should take place away from, and not as part of, a partisan political fight, either during or just after a contentious election. In a calmer atmosphere, the fact that the world has not come to an end in Massachusetts and Connecticut can be pointed out." To that, I would add Iowa and especially Vermont.

The last thing I suggested in my comment at Blue Jersey is that equal marriage supporters should step up, not to berate legislators, but to say that if they go ahead now with the legislation, they can count on strong support to preserve that change in the November election. So, the Legislature should stop spinning its wheels ...



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