Same sex marriage will not become law in New Jersey this year by way of legislation or referendum.
Governor Chris Christie assured the Marriage Equality and Religious Excemption Act will not become law when he announced that he will veto it. He was always going to veto it. Yet, his call to put the question on the ballot for the voters to decide assured that it will not pass in the legislature with a veto proof majority, if it passes at all. Legislators, from both parties who are in difficult positions personally and politically over the issue now have cover not to vote to pass the bill.
Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver assured the marriage equality question will not be on the ballot as a State constitutional amendment this fall. A constitutional amendment requires 60% approval in the legislature before it goes to the people in a referendum. Sweeney and Oliver have both said that they will not even allow the referendum question come before their chambers for a vote. They say its a civil rights issue that should not be subject to the whims of the majority. David Duke, the Klan and the Jim Crow south have been invoked in the heated rhetoric in response to Christie’s call for a referendum.
All the noble rhetoric on this issue, from both sides, is political theatrics. Presidential and gubernatorial political theatrics. It has been since 2008.
Governor Corzine asked the gay community not to push for marriage equality during the presidential election year of 2008 or the gubernatorial election year of 2009. Corzine couldn’t get it gay marriage passed in the lame duck legislative session of 2009. Had Corzine been reelected, a same sex marriage bill, without protections for the religious community included in the current bill, likely would have become law early in 2010.
Despite their holier-than-though rhetoric about civil rights, and despite Quinnipiac’s poll showing that a majority New Jersey voters favor same sex marriage, Sweeney and Oliver really oppose putting the question on the ballot this fall because they fear it will bring out conservative voters in large margins. They fear that New Jersey’s 14 electoral votes could be at stake and that the congressional delegation could be at risk. They remember what happened in California (of all places) and Ohio when gay marriage was on the ballot.
Christie remembers California and Ohio too. Once again the great compromiser as outmaneuvered the Democrats and made Steve Sweeney curse. He knows that Sweeney and Oliver would never let the question on the ballot, this year of all years. Yet by calling for a referendum, he has killed the legislation’s chances of passing with a veto proof majority, if at all.
It’s back to court, and to the confirmation hearings for Chrisite’s nominees for the State Supreme Court, for Steve Goldstein and Garden State Equality.
Or, if what the gay community really wants if equal rights and benefits, rather than changing the definition of marriage, Goldstein and GSE could put their considerable skill into making the civil union law work. Quinnipiac says 69% of New Jersey voters support the same sex civil union law. The problem has been that Goldstein and GSE don’t support it. That will be the subject of a follow up post.