Thursday, December 10, 2009

Update: NJ Marriage Vote Canceled

According to the New York Times the battle over a bill that would legalize gay marriage in New Jersey shifted locations unexpectedly late Wednesday as sponsors of the legislation canceled a vote scheduled for Thursday in the State Senate, where the measure appeared headed for defeat.

The sponsors, Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Loretta Weinberg, both Democrats, withdrew the bill from the agenda in the Senate session, saying they wanted to first allow a hearing in the General Assembly, where support for same-sex marriage is believed to be stronger.

But opponents were outraged by the last-minute switch and accused Democrats of abusing their leadership positions to force a controversial issue through the Legislature during the waning days of the session. The bill was passed narrowly on Monday by a Senate committee.

“It makes a mockery of the legislative process,” said John Tomicki, president of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage. “They’re using the Legislature as a propaganda tool. They didn’t have the courage to bring the issue up before the election, and now they’re playing games to do things that the public doesn’t approve of at the very last minute.”

Ms. Weinberg, of Bergen County, brushed aside accusations that the postponement was a tactical maneuver to avert defeat in the Senate, saying that the issue had generated so much public interest that residents deserved more time to give it thorough consideration.

The Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony from scores of residents during a marathon seven-hour hearing on Monday, Ms. Weinberg said, but still had to turn away 150 others who had signed up to speak.

“We think this is the fairest way to proceed, and anybody on the other side can say whatever they want to say,” Ms. Weinberg said.

The switch to the Assembly is likely to increase the frenetic lobbying over the issue, which has already intensified in the past few days.

Gay rights activists are pressing to win legislative approval before Jan. 19 — when Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat who staunchly supports same-sex marriage, is replaced by Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie, a Republican who opposes the measure.

In recent weeks, hundreds of activists, clergy members and citizens-turned-advocates from both sides of the issue have been pressuring lawmakers, pleading their case from phone banks and pulpits, at rallies and in private meetings.

By Tuesday night, the whirlwind had reached the unlikely outpost of Firehouse No. 1 in West Windsor — a quiet enclave — where opponents of the measure demonstrated outside a birthday party being held by State Senator William Baroni, the lone Republican who has said he plans to support it.

Carrying signs declaring, “God says no, Baroni votes yes” and “Phony Baloney Baroni,” a half-dozen demonstrators called out to passing motorists and party guests, warning the senator that constituents would hold him accountable for his vote.

“The Bible is very clear that marriage is between a man and a woman, and homosexuality is a sin,” said Bob Pawson, who said he is a longtime friend of Mr. Baroni’s and has volunteered on his campaigns. “So to promote this lifestyle — it’s actually a death style — is sending the wrong message.”

Mr. Baroni, a Roman Catholic, said he respected the demonstrators’ right to air their views, but nonetheless intended to vote for the marriage bill because he considered it a matter of civil rights.

“I have never voted for discrimination, and I’m not about to start now,” he said.

The Assembly speaker, Joseph J. Roberts Jr., a Democrat from Camden, welcomed the chance to debate the bill, but said he was not certain when a hearing would be scheduled.

Mr. Roberts said that gay men and lesbians deserved the right to marry because the state’s civil union law was inadequate.

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