N.J. Assembly Panel Advances Marriage Bill

BY Julie Bolcer

February 02 2012 4:00 PM ET

Compared to the senate hearing, a large amount of testimony in the
assembly came from practicing Catholics who support marriage equality
and spoke about their gay relatives. Jennifer Ehrentraut-Segro, the
cousin of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, spoke tearfully about the pain
at her Catholic wedding because of the absence of her family member,
who took his own life in 2010 after he reported being bullied by his
roommate. Noting that Governor Christie, a Catholic, recognized the
tragedy of the suicide, she implored lawmakers to consider the “ripple
effects” of their vote.

“Aside from everything that we’re
hearing today, there are generations of LGBT youth that haven’t yet
found their voice and are already being denied their right to marry the
one they may love,” she said.

Opponents insisted that the civil
union law works, and argued that the bill’s strict religious exemptions
for clergy members and institutions, modeled on the New York law that
passed last summer, would not offer enough protections. Moshe Bressler,
who testified against the bill in the senate last week, repeated his
warning that, “The road to hell is paved with religious exemptions.”

The
Orthodox Jewish rabbi also said he had spoken with Ruth Shelton, a town
clerk in Granby, New York who resigned her position rather than sign
same-sex marriage certificates. Bressler said that he could foresee a
similar controversy erupting in New Jersey. Conservative Christian legal
and the National Organization for Marriage have rallied to the defense
of Shelton and a handful of other clerks.

“By signing a civil same-gender marriage certificate, you are going against the word of God,” he said.

Other
speakers in support of marriage equality criticized the referendum
possibility, which Governor Christie suggested on the same day of the
senate committee hearing last week. His comment that civil rights
activists in the South “would have been happy” with a public vote
sparked outrage from Democratic state lawmakers and African-American
elected officials including Congressman John Lewis of Georgia and Newark
Mayor Cory Booker. The governor has since clarified
the remark, saying, “They wished they would have had the option, but
the political climate did not permit it, meaning they would not win.”

Jay
Lassiter, a progressive New Jersey activist, said that a referendum
should only be allowed if voters also are asked their feelings about
divorce. Noting that he and his partner have been together “4,000 times
longer than the Kardashian marriage,” he demanded to know why it is so
easy for straight couples to get a divorce and remarry.

Assemblyman
Reed Gusciora, an openly gay sponsor of the bill, warned that a
referendum would amplify the already ugly dialogue in the state. Earlier
this week, Governor Christie called the lawmaker “numbnuts” for comparing him to the segregationists Lestor Maddox and George Wallace because of the referendum suggestion.

“There’ll
be more divisiveness in this state, there’ll be more acrimony, and it
will be a race to who can shout the loudest,” said Gusciora, moments
before taking a shot at Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich,
“the darling of social conservatives,” who has been married three
times.















The two Republican members of the judiciary committee voted no on the bill. Assemblymember Holly Schepisi, who took office last month, sounded torn at points, however, making reference to her own Catholic-Jewish marriage and saying that she “unfortunately” had heard from few backers of the bill compared to opponents.

Assemblymember Michael Patrick Carroll left no ambiguity about where he stood.

“I am not persuaded that society will reap any benefit from such definitional change,” he said. “Marriage is a three-party contract: husband, wife and society.”



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