This morning, all of New Jersey's Democratic members of the U.S. Congress -- including Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez -- urged their state legislative colleagues to pass marriage equality, where the Star-Ledger reports a marriage equality bill is expected to be introduced this week.
In the letter to the members of the New Jersey Senate and Assembly, which details prior testimony about the insufficiency of New Jersey's civil unions law, the federal lawmakers conclude, "The time has come to end discrimination in marriage. The marriage equality bill in the New Jersey legislature needs your support."
According to NBC-4 New York, the AP is reporting that "Democrats' priority for the new legislative session is to move the bill quickly through both houses of the Legislature and forward it to the governor, perhaps as early as next month."
Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who was in New Hampshire over the weekend stumping for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, ran in opposition to marriage equality in 2010 but has not specifically said he would veto the bill if it passes this session. In addition to signing or vetoing the bill, he also could let it become law without his signature. The Star-Ledger reports that over the weekend "[Christie] was not available for comment. His office declined comment Saturday and did not return a message Sunday."
The Star-Ledger goes on to talk with out gay New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), who said, "Interestingly, the governor has been in three gay marriage states -- Iowa, Massachusetts and New Hampshire -- with Mitt Romney. Deep down, I think he thinks this is the right thing to do."
Regardless of the action he takes, Christie role as one of Romney's more prominent surrogates means the New Jersey marriage equality bill could be one more way in which marriage equality becomes an issue in the presidential campaign.
Regarding today's introduction of the marriage equality bill, Garden State Equality chair Steven Goldstein issued a statement, saying:
The world has changed since the legislature last debated a marriage equality bill in 2009. Today, states with a combined population of more than 35 million people have marriage equality. The freedom to marry is now a success story that has made entire parts of our nation fairer -- and no straight couple’s marriage has fallen apart because of it.
The days are over when marriage equality was the third rail of American politics. Today, in a state and nation that supports marriage equality, not standing up for equality is the third rail for prejudice.
Regarding Christie, NBC-4 New York reports, "Goldstein said he doesn't believe there are any circumstances under which Christie, a national GOP figure who is often talked about as a future presidential prospect, would sign a gay marriage bill."
Freedom to Marry's national campaign director, Marc Solomon, said in a statement regarding the news:
Freedom to Marry is proud to partner with Garden State Equality and New Jersey's tremendous legislative leaders, Senate President Sweeney and House Speaker Oliver, as we work together to make New Jersey the next state to end the exclusion of gay couples from marriage. What New Jersey's legislative leaders are telling us clearly today is that the Garden State values its gay and lesbian citizens fully, and does not accept treating same-sex couples and their families as second class citizens, as it presently does with civil unions.
Marriage matters for same-sex couples and their families, both because it says we're a family through thick and thin in a way that nothing else does, and because it provides a critical safety-net of protections that civil unions do not.
READ the congressional delegation letter: Marriage Equality Delegation.pdf
[Photos: Lautenberg (left), Menendez (right). (Photos courtesy of respective Senate web sites.)]