N.J. Senate backs same-sex marriage bill; Christie veto looms

The New Jersey Senate has approved legislation that would legalize same sex marriage.

The Senate voted 24-to-16 to pass the marriage equality bill. Senate President Steve Sweeney is one of three Democrats who abstained when the Senate rejected the bill two years ago but voted for it Monday.

“Failing to do the right thing and knowing it is a horrible feeling that eats at you every second of every day,” Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said

Sen. Gerry Cardinale, R-Bergen, was the only senator to speak against the bill. He says the essential characteristic of marriage is that it involves one male and one female.

“Do not break with thousands of years of civilized tradition. This bill opens Pandora’s box,” he said. “The unintended consequences could be more than we can imagine or manage.”

Although the measure has passed in the Senate, the 24 votes fall three short of the number needed to override Gov. Chris Christie’s promised veto of the measure.

Still, supporters are not giving up.

Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, one of the main sponsors of the measure, said attitudes could change to produce enough votes for an override in the nearly two years lawmakers would have before the current legislative session ends.

“People evolve on this issue all the time. We’ve seen it continually. More and more states are coming on board and recognizing this important right and the time for it,” Lesniak said. “So we’ll just keep pressing until we can convince a few more senators that this is the right thing to do.”

Some Republicans, including the governor, want to put the issue to voters. Democrats say it’s a civil rights issue that should not be on the ballot.

Sen. Kip Bateman, R-Somerset, said  he hopes Democrats who control the Legislature will drop their opposition to his proposal to have a constitution amendment providing for marriage equality put on the ballot.

“If they’re really interested in the end result of having marriage equality, if the governor vetoes the bill, they should give an opportunity,” said Bateman. “I mean, are they concerned that the voters aren’t smart enough to vote on this issue? I think the voters should be given that opportunity.”

Garden State Equality chairman Steven Goldstein said he expects attitudes will change to allow for a veto override by the end of the legislative session in January of 2014.

“The world has changed since January of 2010 when the bill failed in the Senate. People’s attitudes, both the general public and our public officials, have changed dramatically for equality,” said Goldstein. “It’s a different world now and will continue to evolve.”

A vote in the Assembly is scheduled for Thursday.

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