First Washington, Now New Jersey Braces for Marriage Showdown

BY Julie Bolcer

January 24 2012 4:00 AM ET

In addition, Sweeney believes that advocates have bolstered their case
for the bill by including strong religious exemptions modeled on the New York law. He said that some Roman Catholic and conservative Jewish
leaders exerted “enormous pressure” on lawmakers in 2010, but this time, “We’re
acknowledging and trying to be as respectful as we can of religious
communities. We don’t want this in any way or form to become a
matter of religion. We want the focus to be exactly on what it is,
which is a civil rights issue.”

Unlike in New York and
Washington, where governors Andrew Cuomo and Christine Gregoire reached
out to Catholic archbishops, New Jersey, where 40% of the population
identifies as Catholic, lacks a chief executive willing to play
ambassador. However, Sweeney, a Catholic, offered assurance that
outreach would be underway. “We heard them the last time,” he said of religious critics.

In
addition to the governor’s ambivalent statements about a veto and the
promising new poll, Sweeney said that four Republican senators’ support
for the marriage equality bill in New York is “probably one of the
biggest changes” since 2010. “It was OK for Republicans to vote for
something like this and they’re still standing, though they’re being
threatened, I think that had a big impact,” he said. Campaign finance
filings released last week showed that the New York Republicans increased their fund-raising significantly in the six months following the vote.

Paul
Singer and Daniel Loeb, two of the hedge-fund managers who contributed
more than $1 million to help finance a substantial portion of the New York campaign, have
close ties to Christie. Their connection has raised the question
of whether the same wealthy Republican donors who proved instrumental in New York could influence the outcome in nearby New Jersey. Sweeney said
that although he was not aware of any efforts, he “wouldn’t turn down
any help.”

Regarding his own relationship with the governor,
Sweeney said the two of them “get along fine.” Last June, the senate president called Christie a
“bully” and a “rotten prick,” among many other things, in an interview
at the height of the budget battle. He regrets speaking to the reporter before he cooled off, and he predicted that his "very
good relationship” with the governor, never one to mince words himself, would promote productive discussion about marriage equality when the time arrives.

There’s just one formality.

“We’ve got to pass it first. Then we’ll have a conversation,” he said. “It’s coming. It’s coming now.”











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