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Stephen M. Sweeney

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Chris Christie's Gay Marriage Veto: We're Going to Override It

Posted: 02/25/2012 10:42 am

New Jersey nearly made it to the finish line. Unfortunately, a governor driven by national ambition derailed the fight for equality and fairness. But Governor Christie's veto only delayed the day and time when we finally establish marriage equality in the Garden State -- because it is going to happen in New Jersey, and we are going to override his veto.

Two weeks ago, the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly passed legislation that would establish true equality in the way we treat same-sex couples. It would officially recognize same-sex couple unions for what they are: marriages. Along the way, we encountered the usual hysteria that pops up anytime this issue is mentioned. We heard the same old claims, all of which are based either on fear, hatred, or simple misunderstanding. We heard the ridiculous statements about this opening up a Pandora's Box that would allow people to marry their dogs. We heard all the inane observations from those who in no way, shape, or form would have been impacted by this legislation.

In the end, my colleagues proudly stood up and rejected those arguments. They stood with those whose only request is to be treated like everyone else. It was an enormous accomplishment, particularly in the Senate, where just two years ago a similar bill failed by a vote of 14 in favor vs. 20 against (it required 21 votes in favor to pass). At the time, I abstained from voting, unfortunately -- a decision I immediately regretted.

In two years' time, however, I and many of my fellow colleagues came around to see this issue for what it was: a matter of equality, fairness, and justice. In the end, the Senate passed marriage equality by a 24-16 vote, with two courageous Republicans defying their governor and voting for what was right. The enormous shift between this latest vote and the one we took two years ago clearly spells out that the days of treating same-sex couples as second-class citizens in New Jersey are numbered.

Unfortunately, Governor Chris Christie refuses to be part of the solution to this problem of inequality. Driven by national ambition that would rather see him be president (or vice president) than do what is right, the governor first tried to deflect his position on the issue by calling for a public vote on whether or not same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

Anyone who is a student of history knows that you never, ever put the rights of the minority up for a vote of the majority; the majority will almost always vote it down. Not only was Governor Christie clearly ignorant of history on this issue, but his newfound sense of populism (the governor never seems to ask for a public referendum on any other issue) was also a way to relieve his Republican colleagues in the Legislature of their duty to serve the people. Our job as legislators is to act. If we are going to simply punt on every difficult issue that comes up, we might as well pack our bags and head home.

Luckily, the majority of legislators were able to see the governor's action for what it was, and we passed marriage equality. Unfortunately, the governor last week vetoed the bill. As if the veto weren't bad enough, the governor also called for an ombudsman to oversee the state's current civil unions law. It was shocking. Governor Christie was actually advocating for a taxpayer-paid position whose main function would be to continue our state's failed policy of discrimination. The governor would have been better off simply vetoing the bill -- his new conditions are frankly an embarrassment.

The governor's actions are disheartening, but they certainly do not represent the will and determination of the people of New Jersey. We want to join the ever-growing number of states that recognize that two people who love one another and want to be in a committed relationship should have the same rights as everyone else, regardless of gender. We don't want New Jersey, which has led the way on so many other progressive issues, to be stuck in neutral while a country like South Africa, which only a generation ago had state-sanctioned racial discrimination, has already moved ahead on this issue.

I know many of my Republican colleagues believe marriage equality is the right thing. Unfortunately, Governor Christie has put political pressure on them to keep them from voting how they wish. I know we can change their mind. I know they are good people who want to do the right thing. And I know that in the end what is right and fair will ultimately win out. Though the governor has placed his feet firmly on the wrong side of history, he simply cannot stop the tide of fairness and equality that is rising not just in New Jersey but across the country. We are going to get this done.