State lawmakers passed legislation Dec. 20 that would codify into New Jersey law the right for same-sex couples to marry.
The Senate passed the bill, 35-4. The Assembly passed the legislation, 53-10 with four lawmakers abstaining.
Currently, same-sex marriage in New Jersey is protected by the 2013 State Supreme Court decision in Garden State Equality v. Dow and the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell et al. v. Hodges. The Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case that the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment guarantee same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry.
Conservative Court Concerns
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), a sponsor of the bill, expressed concern that if state lawmakers did not codify the right to marriage for same-sex couples, the shifting balance of the U.S. Supreme Court could endanger the right to marry.
“Devoted same-sex couples all across New Jersey are raising families as contributing members of their communities,” Weinberg said. “We fought to correct the injustice that denied these rights for too many loving couples for far too long. We don’t want to see those rights lost to an arch-conservative agenda of recent Supreme Court appointees.”
Bill Awaits Murphy’s Signature
Gov. Phil Murphy, who has been supportive of LGBTQ+ rights, is expected to sign the measure (S 3416, A 5367), but declined to comment on any specifics of the legislation when asked at his Dec. 20 press briefing if he would sign it.
“It’s pretty clear where we are on gay marriage,” Murphy told reporters.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) who recently lost his reelection bid is another primary sponsor of the bill, along with Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11)
“This is about acting to ensure equal treatment and civil rights for all New Jerseyans, including same-sex couples,” said Sweeney. “Marriage equality respects the rights of loving couples who deserve to be treated equally. The courts have ruled that same-sex marriages are a fundamental right, but we want to put it into statute to protect against any backtracking by the U. S. Supreme Court.”
‘Legislature Must Act’
The head of Garden State Equality, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, said the legislation is important and necessary.
“With a conservative leaning Supreme Court we cannot afford to sit by in hopes the Justices will leave Obergefell v. Hodges intact,” said Christian Fuscarino, the group’s executive director. “Our Legislature must act to preserve this sacred right.”
“We thank the Senate for voting to codify marriage equality into law and ensure New Jersey not only continues to lead the nation on issues of equality, but safeguards them for decades to come,” Fuscarino said.
Sen. Oroho Votes No in Committee, On Floor
State Sen. Steve Oroho (R-24), who is set to become the Senate Republican leader in January, was the sole dissenting vote when the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee cleared the bill, 11-1, on Dec. 16. He was one of four “no” votes on the floor Dec. 20.
Assembly member Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), a prime sponsor of the bill in the Assembly, tweeted in support of the measure on Dec. 20, saying that in 2012 she was “proud to be a prime sponsor of New Jersey’s Marriage Equality Act,” a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the Garden State. The state Legislature passed the bill, but then Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed it.
Huttle said that “advocates continued the fight to the New Jersey Supreme Court, where they were finally successful in legalizing same-sex marriage.”
She said the legislation that both chambers passed on Dec. 20 “will safeguard marriage equality in NJ.”