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Stephen Sweeney, New Jersey Senator, On Gay Marriage, Reparative Therapy Proposals In His State

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New Jersey Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney responded strongly to charges by openly gay Assemblyman Reed Gusciora that he's stalling on a veto override of a marriage equality bill in the New Jersey legislature, saying that he is “truly offended” by the claim, and that he also disagrees with Gusciora’s proposal to bring marriage equality to the ballot in New Jersey after the wins in Maryland, Maine and Washington state. Sweeney also discussed a bill he is spearheading that would ban therapists in New Jersey from performing so-called “reparative therapy” on minors, saying it’s about making children feel valued. (Listen to the full interview below)

“You have kids killing themselves because they think there is something is wrong with them,” Sweeney said while discussing the bill to ban therapies that claim to turn young people from gay to straight. A similar bill was signed into law in California this year, though in recent days a federal appeals court issued an emergency order putting the law, which was to take effect on Jan. 1, on hold until it hears and rules on a challenge to the law.

“The supporters of this bill are people who love their children and understand that you can’t make your children something they’re not born to be,” Sweeney said this week in an interview on my SiriusXM radio program. “You’re born to be what you are. Religious organizations -- no one -- should be involved in this type of behavior. I have a child who is disabled. And I love my daughter as much as I love my son. Because my daughter’s different, it doesn’t make her less valued. Why some religious groups would make someone feel they’re less valued, less of a person, is really troubling to me.”

Sweeney wasn’t sure of GOP Gov. Chris Christie’s position on the bill. Christie had signed anti-bullying legislation in 2011, but vetoed a marriage equality bill earlier this year.

“Something like this, he wouldn’t express it until it’s time for him to act,” he said. “When he vetoed marriage equality, that was a loud statement of indifference. I’m not sure where the governor will be on this.”

Regarding a veto override of the marriage bill, Sweeney said, “I’m three votes short right now, but we’ve moved the bill early on. We think we’ve got a shot at overriding the governor because it’s a civil rights issue.”

But Sweeney is strongly opposed to bringing marriage equality to the ballot, as Christie had urged and as Gusciora recently proposed, introducing a bill in the legislature.

“Civil rights is not something that should voted on,” said Sweeney. "I wholehearted disagree with that approach. We’re not in a liberal state. We’re in a moderate state. In California they voted to make marriage equality illegal, in the most liberal state in the country. I understand [Gusciora’s] frustration. But I cannot in good conscience put this up for a ballot vote, see it go down, and then New Jersey is viewed as a conservative state. You know, New Jersey, back in 1915, voted against a woman’s right to vote. Now, people say, 'We won in the three states [Maryland, Maine and Washington].' And millions of dollars were spent. And they won. But they lost in 30 states before. I’m not willing to put something on the ballot and allow someone to choose civil rights.”

Gusciora had also called for a vote on the veto override now, even if it doesn’t pass, and charged that the Democratic leadership doesn't want to move for an override of Christie's veto now because Democrats want to wait in order use the issue of marriage equality against Republicans in the elections in the fall.

“I’m offended by the statement,” Sweeney responded. “I am truly offended by his position and statement. The assemblyman has never spoken to me or reached out to me to ask what our strategy or plan is. This is not political. This is about civil rights. Who says we’re not going to vote after the election? Look, we wanted to give our Republican colleagues who are supportive the chance to get beyond the primaries, where they’ve been threatened, in primaries. You saw what happened in New York State, where people were primaried out of office. I’m not looking to lose people because of this issue. I’m not one to do that to my colleagues because I want to work with them to get this done. Unfortunately it’s the assemblyman who has not spoken to anyone on this issue. The difference is, I have been speaking to the leading groups on marriage equality.”

Listen to the full interview here:

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