NJ Senate Approves Gay Marriage Bill; State Poised to Redefine Marriage?

The New Jersey State Senate voted 24-16 in favor of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state, prompting observers to wonder if the Garden State will soon become the seventh state to redefine traditional marriage.

Activists on both sides of the issue descended on Trenton on Monday, watching as a majority of state senators voted in favor of the "Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act," which grants marriage rights to same-sex couples.

It was widely thought the bill would pass through the Senate. It will now be sent to the Assembly where supporters also believe the bill will pass.

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However, Gov. Chris Christie has said on numerous occasions that he would veto the bill if it reached his desk and has called for a referendum – an option drawing the ire of same-sex marriage supporters.

At the bill's vote, Senate President Stephen Sweeney – who voted against a similar bill in 2010 but has since changed his mind on the issue – said the bill is necessary for ensuring the basic rights of all New Jersey citizens.

"What is silly is that we actually have to debate something as elementary as equal protection under the law for all residents," Sweeney said. "The passage of this bill is the right thing and the just thing."

Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the bill's co-sponsor, spoke passionately about what she views as the similarities between the fight to legalize same-sex marriage and the plights of U.S. women and racial minorities in the previous century.

"We need to recognize that objection to marriage equality is not steeped in conservative values, its steeped in prejudice," Weinberg said, adding that opposing same-sex marriage is "legally justified homophobia."

Weinberg echoed the thoughts of many New Jersey Democrats who have vowed to reject a bill introduced by a Republican lawmaker this week that would follow Gov. Christie's advice and put the issue to referendum in the fall.

"Subjecting the equal rights of same-sex couples to the whims of the majority and to the multimillion dollar campaign which will inevitably precede the vote from the special interests nationwide intent on preserving the status quo; to me, that's offensive and unprecedented," Weinberg said. "New Jersey has never adopted equal protection and rights for people through initiative and referendum."

Those in attendance erupted in applause when the vote's tally was announced.

Groups in favor of upholding the current definition of marriage, including National Organization for Marriage, New Jersey Family Policy Council and the Knights of Columbus, have vowed to fight the bill and will likely begin a public campaign to fight against the same-sex marriage movement should the measure go to referendum.

The referendum may not come, however. If the Assembly passes the bill on Thursday and Christie vetoes the bill, supporters will have two years to convince a two-thirds majority in each house of congress to override the governor's veto.

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