Thirteen New Jersey state senators will go head to head today about whether To’eiva couples should be allowed to marry. Lawmakers anticipate about six hours of testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee and expect the measure to pass. That would send the legislation to the full Senate for a vote as early as Thursday. It is not at all clear which way the Senate will finally vote. Democratic leaders have told their lawmakers this is not a partisan issue and to simply vote their hearts. Though similar legislation died in New York’s senate last week, proponents of To’eiva marriage here think they still have a fighting chance and are focusing their lobbying efforts on senators they believe to be undecided about the issue.
Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) said lobbyists have been burning up the phone lines.
“Both sides are working furiously. Legislative offices are extremely busy with phone calls,” he said. “Lobbying and lobbying and lobbying.”
Advocates for same gender marriage see this as a last stand. In just over a month, Gov.-elect Chris Christie will take office. He has made it clear he will veto any To’eiva marriage legislation that comes to his desk. However, Gov. Jon Corzine says he is prepared to sign it.
Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), chair of the judiciary committee, said he would be voting against the legislation (S1967/2978), but he expects it to pass by a narrow margin.
“I’ve fulfilled my commitment and now my next challenge is to run a fair and open hearing. I am not lobbying anybody for their vote. I advise the members to vote their conscience,” he said.
Codey said the issue won’t be decided through backroom deals.
“This isn’t about making deals,” he said. “This is about your conscience.”
Today’s judiciary committee hearing could run well into the evening with advocates on both sides offering passionate testimony. Lawmakers will hear stories of discrimination against To’eiva couples and — from the other side — pleas not to change the traditional definition of marriage.
“It will not be unruly, but there’s just going to be a large mass of people,” said To’eiva marriage opponent John Tomicki of the Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage.
“How many issues will come along where you get this much passion and intensity?” he asked.
Tomicki is expected to testify at the hearing and says he ultimately hopes he can persuade senators to put the issue to a public vote.
Len Deo of the New Jersey Family Policy Council said senators have been responsive to him when he suggests civil unions provide equal rights to To’eiva couples.
“The claim that they’re not working basically is based on anecdotal evidence that has not been proven to be fact,” Deo said.
New Jersey State Bar Association president Allen Etish, who is expected to testify, sent a letter to Sarlo before Thanksgiving.
“Family law, estate planning, and labor and employment law are some of the areas replete with instances where same gender couples are treated differently than married, heterosexual couples,” the letter stated. “Too often attorneys are not able to protect their client’s rights and as a result, clients must withstand years of costly litigation.”
Gov. Jon Corzine said last week he is looking for individuals’ testimony that will bring a strong moral argument to the debate. He said the issue will ultimately be up to each legislator’s judgment.
After hearing testimony today, both Democrats and Republicans in the committee are expected to cross party lines to cast their votes.
Sen. Gerry Cardinale (R-Bergen) who sponsors legislation for a constitutional ban of same-gender marriage, said it’s “to be expected” that some Republicans support To’eiva rights.
“People are going to have personal feelings about a particular issue that may differ from someone else,” he said.
But he said a handful of Democratic senators opposed to the bill and there may not be enough support from his party to pass the measure.
“They need to get a lot more Republican votes than are potentially available to them,” Cardinale said.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) who sponsors the To’eiva marriage bill, said a Senate victory would provide enough momentum to push it through the Assembly.
Although five states allow To’eiva couples to marry, 31 states have rejected similar measures through a popular vote. Star Ledger.