Assembly Minority Leader Lou Greenwald told The Star Ledger that Assembly Democrats are not likely to pass legislation that would protect clergy and religious organizations from being forced to perform same sex marriages and accommodate the ceremonies.
What’s less clear is what the Legislature is going to do about gay marriage. Right now, gay couples can get married in New Jersey. But that right hangs on a decision made at the Superior Court level, since the state Supreme Court never decided the case.
Lawmakers could try to override Christie’s 2012 veto of gay marriage legislation or write a new bill to encode it into law. Or they could do nothing — an option they say is looking more attractive.
Greenwald said the Assembly is leaning against an override because, even if they cobbled together the two-thirds majority they’d need to pull it off, a religious exemption provision that was inserted into the bill to win Republican support could actually restrict rights gay couples have under the court ruling.
“The answer probably is no,” Greenwald said of the override. “Right now in New Jersey, the opinion seems to be that we have the strongest marriage equality laws in the country.”
Early last year the New Jersey Legislature passed the Marriage Equality and Religious Exceptions Act which, if it had been signed by Governor Chris Christie, would have granted same sex couples the right to marry and recognized the First Amendment Right of clergy and religious societies, organizations and institutions not to solemnize gay marriage or provide space, goods, services, advantages or privileges for gay marriage ceremonies. The Act would have provided immunity from civil law suits against religious organizations that refused to accommodate gay marriages.
Christie vetoed the legislation and called on the legislature to put an Amendment to the New Jersey Constitution on the ballot which would have given the voters the power to decide the marriage equality question. The Democratic legislature did not put the question to the voters.
On September 27 Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that New Jersey must allow same sex couples to marry because the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act had the effect of making New Jersey’s Civil Unions unequal to Marriage. Jacobson ruled that New Jersey must allow same sex couples to marry starting on October 21. The Christie Administration asked the Court to stay the decision, pending an appeal. The State Supreme Court’s ruling denying the stay made it clear that the appeal would fail, prompting Christie to drop it.
Gay marriages started being performed at midnight on October 21.
The legislature can now override Christie’s veto during their “lame duck” session which ends in early January, pass another bill that codifies marriage rights and that complies with Jacobson’s decision, or do nothing.
Action on an override would have to originate in the Senate, because that is where the Act originated. Senate President Steve Sweeney said he doesn’t want to do anything to hurt the gay community.