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Archive for the ‘Gay Marriage’ Category

It’s that time of the year again. The New Jersey Press Association presents the Legislative Correspondent’s Club annual show.

Basically, the state’s  ( now dwindling ) press corps performs a series of skits and songs that mock the political and media elite of the Garden State. It is often quite funny replete with costumes, wigs and other flamboyant accessories that would make even Elton John blush.

As for my role…well, I am El Presidente this year. That means I don’t actually have to sing ( which is not my strong suit ). I have to deliver the introductory speech which is supposed to be funny and slightly mean spirited. Well, I don’t know how funny it shall be, although I’m working on it. It will most certainly be biting, and of course familiar.

Then of course, after the show is over, people get to stand around and hang out in a cocktail party-type atmosphere which is even more fun. And the whole evening is off the record. So, if you are remotely interested, I urge you to purchase tickets. Proceeds go to charity.

Contact Peg Stephan 609-406-0600 ext. 14. or pastephan@njpa.org

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Governor Christie has publicly joked about his initial meeting with Paula Dow upon arriving at the US Attorney’s office in 2002. I’ll refrain from trying to characterize the encounter, because the Governor’s story is actually kinda genius and you really need to hear him tell it and not me.

Suffice to say, it was reminder that while there was a lot of common ground, they came from different worlds. Fast forward to 2010, Christie is the Governor and Dow is his A-G.

Last month Dow joined Attorneys General from three other states in a friend-of-court brief which which is raising eyebrows among opponents of gay marriage – something Christie has also said he is against.

First a little background – The University of California – Hastings College of Law denied official recognition to a chapter of a group known as the Christian Legal Society. Officers and voting members of CLS are required to adhere to Christian values which includes no sex outside of marriage. See where this is headed? A gay or lesbian relationship would not meet that standard in states where gay marriage is illegal.

Anyway, CLS challenged the constitutionality of its denial since it allows anyone to join the society but limits those aforementioned sex restrictions to its leadership. Last December ( at the height of the gay marriage debate in New Jersey ) the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the petition. Friend-of-the-court briefs were filed supporting CLS, but Dow did the opposite.

New Jersey filed a brief opposing CLS’s arguments and endorsing the University position along with A-G’s from Massacusetts, Vermont and Maryland.

According to Dow’s office, Governor Christie’s office was informed of the brief after it had been filed. But Christian conservatives feel that should not be New Jersey’s position. They argue that whatever Dow’s personal views may be, they should probably reflect those of the Governor who appointed her. And if they don’t, New Jersey could have simply stayed out of it.

The Supreme Court hears arguments this week.

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It’s like one of those movies…just when you think the protagonist has escaped danger, a new threat emerges. Sometimes, the danger is not “new” at all, but just the same old threat which never really went away.

For weeks, “uncertainty about its fate” has been the easiest way to describe gay marriage legislation. As the obituaries were being written yet again this week, Senate President Dick Codey announces that he will post the bill for a full Senate vote on January 7th.

What has changed since the bill’s chief sponsors asked the Senate not to vote on it last month because there weren’t enough votes to get it passed? It’s hard to say. Perhaps nothing. Although incoming Senate President Stephen Sweeney left the door slightly ajar when Claire Heininger of the Star-Ledger and I grabbed him after Dana Redd’s swearing in ceremony Tuesday afternoon in Camden.

Sweeney  ( who had been on stage for roughly two hours during the Redd ceremony ) seemed slightly caught off guard when we told him that Codey had made the announcement via press release slightly after 2 pm. He did however, refer to gay marriage as a “civil rights issue,” but declined to say how he would vote. Opponents of the bill once seemed pretty sure that Sweeney was in their camp…and perhaps he still is. Sweeney went on to say that many Democrats are struggling with this one. true dat.

Codey, does not seem real intent on easing that suffering. His surprise announcement puts a lot of conservative Democrats in a position they were hoping not to be in. This, as the progressive wing of the party threatens to unseat them for voting “no.”

Coupla points here…first of all, the right wing of the Republican party has been playing this game for years. Particularly at the national level. It’s not that they vote Democrat when they don’t get what they want, it’s that they either support a primary challenger or simply don’t vote on election day. In fact, it was the conservative wing of the party here in NJ that  pressured Repubs who who were leaning towards voting for gay marriage. But the left wing of the Dem party often seems less inclined to play that kind of hard ball. They are threatening to do so now, and it sounds like they are serious. Can they muster enough strength to force some hands? That remains to be seen in the next few election cycles.

Also coming into play here is the Sweeney-Codey struggle from this past Fall ( see earlier posts ).

Finally, There was another fairly significant development in the last few days. 120 clergy members from across the state representing 19 different faiths and denominations sent a letter to Codey, Roberts and Corzine urging a vote on gay marriage. Among the signatories was Chuck Rush, Corzine’s personal pastor  from Summit.

Religious leaders – notably Catholic Bishops and Hasidic Rabbis have come out strongly against gay marriage. But it’s now at least a toss up over whether more clergy support this bill than oppose it here in NJ.

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If a bill legalizing gay marriage dies, and it appears very likely that it will, the issue could once again go to the courts.

In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in the case Lewis v. Harris that same sex couples are entitled to equal protection under the law.  Later that same year, New Jersey passed a law establishing civil unions. But a commission created by that law to study it concluded that civil unions are inadequate, and marriage is the only remedy. Even critics have acknowledged that the civil union law may not go far enough. Democratic Senator Ron Rice for example is opposed gay marriage, but has expressed a willingness to fix the current civil union law.

Five Republican Senators led by Minority Leader Tom Kean have vowed to do the same. But the fundamental question remains…can the law be nuanced enough to ensure full equality under the law?

“You can get close, but you’ll never have full equality” says Allen Etish, President of the NJ State Bar Association. Until a partner is called a “spouse” there is just no way to ensure that hospitals, health and life insurance companies will catch up to the idea that civil union partners deserve the same rights and benefits. Any other kind of partnership “just doesn’t cut it.”

So what does that mean? Well, you have what sounds like a sincere belief within the legislature that the current law needs to be fixed. How high making that change will be on the list of priorities when the state can barely pay its bills is a whole other question. Something tells me not very high.

Which brings us back to the court. Another test case would have to wind its way through the system to once again reach the SCONJ. At that point justices will rule on the constitutionality of the current civil union law. That could take a year, or it could take three. Either way I can already hear the critics who will decry the court’s “legislating from the bench.”

A lawyer I am not. But it seems pretty clear that the legislature has been given more than enough opportunities to make this right. Let’s see if they act.

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By now, the realization seems to have set in that gay marriage is doomed. Not forever, but getting it done legislatively during lame duck appears overly optimistic.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee where presumably the bill would be heard is an odd configuration. To begin with there are six members. Four Democrats and two Republicans. However, one of those Democrats Peter Barnes is said to be a “no” vote. That would end up in a three three tie. Now, Joe Roberts can bypass the committee and bring the bill directly to the floor of the Assembly but he has not given ( me, at least ) any indication that he will do that. And it appears as though the votes just aren’t there in the full Assembly either.

Senator Loretta Weinberg said during a taping of NJN’s On The Record that when bypassing the full Senate earlier this month, the intention was to have a second hearing. That would put the spotlight on the issue again and allow those who are both pro and con to be heard. So, maybe that was the goal and maybe the Judiciary Committee would simply hold a hearing then not vote. But no matter how you look at it, there does not appear to be a clear path to victory for those who were hoping to get a bill passed and signed before Corzine leaves office.

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In yet another extraordinary development in the debate over gay marriage, supporters are now calling on Senate President Dick Codey to hold the bill during Thursday’s Senate voting session.

In a letter to Codey from Senator Loretta Weinberg who is a prime sponsor of the bill, she asks that the Assembly be given an opportunity to consider the legislation coming off of Monday night’s hearing in the Senate Judiciary committee.

Supporters of the gay marriage bill say that although it passed only narrowly by a vote of 7-6 Monday night, it was historic in nature. They argue that many more people want to be heard on this issue. In addition, a sweeping amendment by Republican Senator Bill Baroni was introduced that would exempt religious groups and institutions from having to perform same sex marriage. ( btw – opponents of gay marriage say the Baroni amendment doesn’t actually do much, nor does it grant protections that are not already outlined in the constitution )

A Democratic insider who is close to the negotiations says they are “confident momentum is on their side.”

Here is the bottom line: the votes are not there in the Senate. And it appears as though they are there in the Assembly – to clear the both the Judiciary committee and to pass the full house. Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts is unlikely to give dates for the upcoming hearing and subsequent floor debate, but I understand it could be early January.

Initially, members of the Assembly had said they would not consider gay marriage until the Senate passed the bill. That thinking seems to have now been turned on its head.

Senator Ray Lesniak says Codey has already agreed to hold the bill.

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It wasn’t an overwhelming victory for gay rights advocates ( at least in terms of the score ), but it was a victory nonetheless. And I think there is a famous quote along the lines of  “A win is a win is a win.” Ok, perhaps it’s not famous, but you get the idea.

Supporters need to get to 21 in the full Senate, and they are simply not there yet. Some say the number is as high as 19 ‘yes’ votes, but I am told it’s more like 16 and possibly 17.

Behind the scenes is where most of the action is taking place. Although publicly he hasn’t said much, incoming Governor Chris Christie has apparently had quite a bit to say privately on this issue. Sources say Christie met with the Assembly Republican Caucus yesterday and the Senate Caucus last week. His message was the same to both: Don’t vote for this bill.

There are a couple of theories here as to why he cares so much. Some say Christie feels strongly that civil unions provide adequate protections for gay and lesbian couples. The other postulates that he is trying to hold the party together and needs and wants them to speak with one voice. Remember the NJ Republican Leadership Committee? They were that new group that coalesced largely around this issue to force Repubs to vote no on gay marriage and pull members rightward. It was/is spearheaded by Ginny Littel and Steve Lonegan. Well, we haven’t heard much from them lately, have we?

It appears as though the party is coming together to embrace Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commendment, “Thou shalt Not Speak Ill Of Another Republican.”

We’ll see if that holds true for Bill Baroni. He was the one ‘R’ to vote for the bill in committee and sources say will be the only ‘R’ voting for it in the full Senate.

Then there are the Democrats who appear to be ready to go to war ( against each other ) over this issue. First it was reported that Senator Dana Redd would not meet with Julian Bond yesterday which prompted more than one Democrat to snipe about Camden receiving millions of dollars from Dem Governors and her failure to stand with the party at a critical time.

Sources say Governor Corzine who feels strongly about this issue has been working quietly but feverishly behind the scenes to get the bill passed. It was he who got Bond here to testify yesterday, and he who secured a letter of support from civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis.

But others speak of a more corrosive “generational divide” within the party. Many of the younger people want the Dems to take a stand on this issue which they consider a matter of civil rights, whereas some of the older party stalwarts are a little more conservative. Primaries are being threatened. For example, There is already talk about backing Assemblywoman Nellie Pou in a bid to unseat Senator John Girgenti who voted against the bill in committee on Monday night.

And another thing, If progressives stay home in the next couple of election cycles, The Dems will have a problem on their hands whether they admit it or not. And here is the final question I will leave you with…if the Republicans can get their troops in line, why can’t the Democrats???

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More than 2o years ago, rapper Big Daddy Kane released a song called “Ain’t no half-steppin.”

let’s put aside for a second the eloquence of his prose and focus instead on the message. In essence it suggests that if you are going to do something, you might as well go all the way. Because when you do something half-heartedly, you wind up pleasing no one.

When New Jersey enacted Civil Unions almost three years ago, some believed it made gay couples equal under the law. But just as “separate but equal” did not work in the last century when it came to black and white, one can argue it hasn’t worked here either. In fact, since the adoption of  the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy by the US armed forces ( another attempt at compromise ) even more men and women in uniform have been booted due to their sexual orientation.

So, there is a school of thought out there that New Jersey should simply legalize gay marriage and be done with it.

On the flip side, civil rights is an evolution. The landmark Civil Rights Act  of 1964 came about after years of protest in the streets that was often put down violently. The point here is that incrementally over time change was implemented.  So there are people ( perhaps a majority…it’s hard to tell because the polls have shifted ) who may need some time to get used to the idea of gay marriage. Meaning, they would like to try civil unions for a few more years before pushing ahead with full equality.

History is likely on the side of gay marriage. Opponents must know that apathy is the enemy of opposition. Much of the younger generation simply does not care. And not caring is tantamount to supporting it.

So, we now know that the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the bill Monday ( first reported here, btw ), and if it clears that committee then the full Senate could vote as early as Thursday. I suppose now is as good a time as any to ask lawmakers to vote their conscience, whatever that may be.

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We all believe in second and third acts, and when it comes to the fate of legislation it can sometimes be a bit of a bumpy ride. Just as opponents appeared to have won the debate over gay marriage which would have prevented the bill from even coming up for a vote, it looks now as though the proponents of gay marriage will indeed get their day. Maybe.

An insider tells me that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo has sent a draft schedule to the Senate President’s office for next Monday which includes the bill S1967. That is the bill legalizing marriage between same sex couples in New Jersey. The Senate President must approve the bills that will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 7th. So for now, it is up to Dick Codey. Should he greenlight it, that bill will finally get it’s long awaited hearing.

This is tricky for some lawmakers who were more than happy to see it die from lack of oxygen. However, some advocates would like to know which legislators may have been talking outta both sides of their mouths on this one – telling the gay rights groups they would vote for it, while promising the church they would not. Once that vote is on the record it will be a day a reckoning as they say in the game of Life ( I mean that literally…”Life” is a board game ).

The word is that the Assembly would not take up it’s version of the bill without the Senate going first. However, the evolving nature of this emotional legislation comes as more than 200 people sign a petition asking for a hearing. Who signed it? certainly some big names you’ve heard of like Congressmen Frank Pallone and Steve Rothman, but also Democratic staffers who have worked in both politics and government. These are the people who are household names to insiders but are not neccesarily well known outside the State House. They are however, the backbone and dare I even say the soul of the Democratic party.

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The Four

As first reported here, Democrats ( Let me say the word again – Democrats ) believe they had the support of four Republicans in the state Senate to vote in favor of the gay marriage bill.

Enter Steve Lonegan. the former Gubernatorial candidate has a list of 75,000 supporters in New Jersey. People on that list were contacted and urged to let the four undecided Republicans know that they should vote “no” on gay marriage.

And they heard, alright. Hundreds of calls and emails have been pouring into those legislative district offices of the four. One staffer described it to me this way, “we got killed.”

There have also been robo-calls to voters in those four districts, and starting next week there will likely be radio ads.

Kip Bateman who had been on the fence is now leaning toward “no.” Jen Beck issued a statement today ( which sounded like it was equipped with daggers aimed a certain unnamed blogger, ahem ) saying that she is still undecided. And we haven’t heard from Sean Kean or Bill Baroni.

And here is something else we are going to be hearing about soon. It’s a new group called the Conservative Republican Leadership Committee. They call themselves a “good government group.” It was formed after the election in response to Republicans only picking up one seat in the Assembly. The head of  this new organization is Ginny Littel who told me today that it’s not really about the gay marriage issue per se. They just believe that gay marriage should not bee ram-rodded through during lame duck and that there should be a “full airing.”

I am also told that people close to Chris Christie have been trying to tamp down the flames. They have been discouraging the gay marriage opponents from “aggressively lobbying” the Republican four.

Let’s say this for now. The gay marriage bill is not on the agenda for next week’s first meeting of the Senate Judiciary committee during lame duck.

 

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