The New Jersey Assembly on Thursday passed legislation to that would allow same sex couples to marry despite a veto threat from Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
"The 'freedom to marry' belongs to all Americans regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation," Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D) said. "In a society based on the notion of separation of church and state, it simply goes against our constitution to deny rights to one group because of another group's religious beliefs. This is the Stonewall of our time, meant to correct the last vestiges of discrimination in our state. For same sex New Jersey couples and their children, this law will transform their lives."
The bill, the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act, was approved by a vote of 42 to 33. The measure passed the Senate on Monday by a vote of 24 to 16.
The legislation includes a religious exemption stating that no member of the clergy of any religion authorized to solemnize marriage and no religious society, institution or organization in this state shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Christie has pledged to veto the bill. Instead, he has called for the New Jersey legislature to draft a constitutional amendment and put the issue to a statewide vote.
But Democrats have said it is wrong to put a civil right issue on the ballot and vowed to pass the bill despite the governor’s veto threat.
"If only we could talk to Governor William Bradford today, who in 1621 performed the first civil marriage, thus setting the precedent of government recognition of this right," said Gusciora. "The point being, that as long as government defines the word 'marriage' - And New Jersey does define who can and can not marry in Title 37 of our statutes - then it should be done on an equitable basis."
If Christie does veto the bill, Democrats would need to muster a two-thirds majority vote in both the Assembly and the Senate to override it.