Same-sex marriage bill clears N.J. panel; GOP lawmakers want voters to decide

As a New Jersey Senate panel advanced legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Garden State, a Republican lawmaker suggested putting the issue to voters.

The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the Marriage Equality Act Tuesday on a party-line vote with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposed.

Gov. Chris Christie is expected to veto the bill if it makes it through the full Legislature.

Sen. Kip Bateman, R-Somerset, said he supports the governor’s proposal to have a voter referendum on the issue.

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“Put it on the ballot,” Bateman said. “Let all New Jerseyans have a say in it especially this year. This year is a presidential election. Why not let the voters decide this very important issue?”

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said that’s not going to happen.

“Civil rights is not to be placed on the ballot. It’s to be voted on by the people in this house,” he said to applause.

Garden State Equality chairman Steven Goldstein said he hopes for a better outcome in the full Legislature than in 2009 when a marriage equality bill was defeated in the Senate.

“This is not about election year politics. This is about same-sex couples wanting equality that they don’t have,” Goldstein said.

“Now we’re not ruling out an override,” he continued. “The governor will veto this bill as he said. One step at a time. Let’s pass the bill, get it to his desk, if he vetoes, than we start the override battle.”

The president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, maintains the civil union law is working.

“There’s a little over 5,400 civil union couples,” said Len Deo. “They were given the right to make a complaint to the New Jersey Commission on Civil Rights if their union was not being accepted by businesses. Over five years, 13 couples have complained.”

But South Brunswick resident Marsha Shapiro, who has been in a civil union since that law was passed almost five years ago, said it does not provide the same rights and protections as marriage.

“Civil unions do not provide the benefits of marriage and cannot be fixed with time and education,” she said. “The term ‘civil union’ places us in a separate and unequal category.”

An Assembly committee will hold a hearing on the marriage equality measure early next month.

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