The New Jersey General Assembly has passed the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act by a vote of 42-33, according to The New York Times and the Star-Ledger in New Jersey. The Assembly was 12 votes shy of the 54 votes required for a veto-proof majority, which is expected to be needed because Gov. Chris Christie (R) has said he will veto the bill.
Garden State Equality Chair Steven Goldstein said in a statement, "Since Stonewall, we have been on a 40-year journey toward our freedom. Today, the legislature has brought us to the edge of the promised land. We know the Governor won't let us enter, but we finally behold the view of our dreams and we will never turn back."
While debating the issue prior to the vote, assembly members expressed personal sentiment toward the measure. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34th) recalled her childhood years, growing up in a time when interracial marriage was against the law.
"When I was 3 years old couples of different ethnic persuasion were legally barred from getting married," she said. "We cannot single out any one group of people and deem them to be undeserving of the same legal protections that everyone else has."
On Feb. 14, Christie labeled the Senate's performance as "a good bunch of theater," and said that he expected the bill would pass through the Assembly. "It would be awfully embarrassing if they didn't have enough votes in the assembly to pass it, after they made it day one," he said. "I'm assuming they will have the votes to pass it."
When the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 24-16 on Monday, they were only 3 votes short of the 27 votes that would have been necessary for the protection.
If Christie vetoes the bill as expected, state legislators will have until January 2014 to secure two-thirds veto-proof majorities needed in each chamber to turn the bill into law. Christie also has said that he supports a marriage equality referendum being placed on the ballot this November.
Pro-marriage equality organizations are already geared up to fight Christie's veto, and to ensure that same-sex couples will have the right to marry in the future.
"Sadly, Governor Chris Christie has planted his feet on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the majority for marriage in New Jersey and nationwide," Evan Wolfson, founder and President of Freedom to Marry said today in a statement. "If the governor sticks with his threat of a veto, Freedom to Marry will work throughout the entire remainder of the legislative session ... to override the veto and do right by these families."
Despite Christie's expected veto, Lambda Legal executive director Kevin Cathcart says that his organization will continue to fight for New Jersey's same-sex couples in the courts. "We believe there are many paths to justice," he said in a statement. "and Lambda Legal continues to fight for marriage equality in the courts on behalf of seven same-sex couples, Garden State Equality, and all families in New Jersey."
[CORRECTION: The Star-Ledger and New York Times reported that the vote was 42-33, although the vote called by the clerk and announced in organizations' initial news releases was 41-33. Freedom to Marry tweeted that a member's voting button had stuck and that was the reason for the confusion about the vote tally.]