The New Jersey Assembly judiciary committee will hold a hearing Thursday
morning on the marriage equality bill, which a Senate panel advanced
last month but Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to veto.
According to a news release from the Assembly leadership, the hearing will take place at 10 a.m. at the State House Annex in Trenton. A live audio stream will be available here.
Last week the Senate judiciary committee advanced the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act on an 8-4 party line vote. The same day, Governor Christie, who supports the state's civil union law, reiterated his pledge to veto the marriage legislation and suggested that lawmakers put the issue to a public vote this fall in a referendum. His proposal, delivered with the observation that civil rights activists in the South "would have been happy" to have a referendum, sparked criticism from Democratic lawmakers who lead both houses, and African-American elected officials including Congressman John Lewis of Georgia and Newark mayor Cory Booker also denounced the idea.
"All evidence shows us that New Jersey's civil union law falls far short in providing true equality," said Assembly speaker Sheila Oliver, a sponsor of the bill. "Civil unions send a message that same-sex couples and their families are not equal to married couples in the eyes of the law. This is the same message we heard from Jim Crow segregation laws. Separate treatment was wrong then. Separate treatment is wrong now."
The marriage equality bill failed in the Senate in 2010 by a 20-14 vote. This session, Democrats have made the bill their first priority and strengthened its religious exemptions based on the law that passed in New York last summer. Legislative leaders believe they have enough votes to pass the bill, but it remains uncertain whether they can garner enough bipartisan support to override the promised veto of the Republican governor. The National Organization for Marriage has promised to spend $500,000 to support lawmakers who oppose the bill and help defeat those who vote for it.
Six states and the District of Columbia, representing about 35 million Americans, have marriage equality. Late Wednesday, Washington State moved toward becoming the seventh state when its Senate passed legislation.