Metro Weekly

New Jersey lawmakers poised to pass bill locking marriage equality into law

Supporters want to ensure same-sex unions remain valid, even if the Supreme Court reverses its 2015 decision striking down state marriage bans.

new jersey, same-sex marriage, marriage equality
New Jersey State Capitol – Photo: Smallbones, via Wikimedia.

New Jersey lawmakers are poised to pass a bill cementing marriage equality into law, more than eight years after same-sex nuptials were made legal by a court order.

Although marriage equality was legalized in a court ruling in September 2013, which found that the state’s laws prohibiting same-gender couples from marrying was unconstitutional, New Jersey never officially passed any measure to legalize same-sex marriages. Rather, the state decided to withdraw its challenge to Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson’s ruling after the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to issue an order blocking marriages from taking effect while the state appealed. 

As such, same-sex partners have been getting married in the Garden State since Oct. 18, 2013, the day that the state withdrew its appeal. Prior to that, same-sex couples were only allowed to enter into civil unions, which were made legal by a bill approved by the Assembly and signed by then-Gov. Jon Corzine (D).

However, the Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear a case regarding a Mississippi law that seeks to challenge the basis of the longstanding Roe v. Wade ruling — which has been credited with establishing the right of a pregnant person to receive an abortion — has made some on the political left uneasy. Given the Supreme Court’s rightward tilt with the confirmations of three justices appointed by President Donald Trump, many political observers fear that the court may take action to effectively overturn Roe, which would then leave it up to individual states to pass laws outlawing or allowing abortion.

Specifically, LGBTQ advocates fear that if the justices reverse Roe, social conservatives will then turn their attentions to reversing the high court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which found all existing state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, by mounting various legal challenges. The only way to pre-empt a Supreme Court decision that would otherwise leave same-sex couples in legal limbo is for individual states to pass laws explicitly allowing for same-sex marriages.

“Since [the Obergefell] decision, at least two or three of the present justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have questioned that decision and called for its reversal,” Bill Singer, an attorney who works with same-sex couples wishing to marry, testified before the Judiciary Committee last Thursday. “Where does that leave same sex couples in New Jersey? Their right to marry hangs from the slender thread of a single decision by a trial court judge. That’s precarious.”

“The statutes of our state have never caught up to the court decisions…which no longer treated same-sex couples as second-class citizens. So it’s important that we take this step and ensure that our law enshrines these rights,” Assemblymember Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson Co.), the chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee and a cosponsor of the bill, said, according to Politico

Related: Most Republicans now support same-sex marriage, six years after Supreme Court ruling

The committee ultimately voted 5-0 to move along legislation stating that all laws “concerning marriage and civil union shall be read with gender neutral intent.” The bill does not include any religious exemptions, leaving it up to courts to decide what the manner and scope of any such exemptions would be.

In 2013, shortly after the New Jersey Supreme Court’s refusal to issue an injunction blocking same-sex marriages from taking effect, Senate lawmakers weighed passing a bill that would have codified Jacobson’s ruling into law. But LGBTQ advocates balked at religious exemptions that were not specifically addressed in the court decision, which had been added to court the votes of Republicans and socially conservative Democrats. As a result of the criticism, the Senate pulled the bill and has not acted upon it since. 

Outgoing Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester Co.) has said he would like to pass the bill in the upper chamber on Dec. 20, if it passes the Assembly during the lame duck session, as expected. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is expected to sign the bill into law once it reaches his desk.

Sweeney, a more conservative Democrat who has clashed with some of his party’s more liberal members, said he became concerned about the fate of same-sex unions after it became clear to him that the U.S. Supreme Court would likely “gut” Roe v. Wade, stating: “If they can do that, same-sex marriage can be the next thing.”

See also:

Transgender teen being forced to leave Boy Scout troop, despite policy allowing female scouts

Pastor fired by church after appearing in drag on HBO’s We’re Here

Long Island man accused of threatening to bomb NYC Pride, shoot LGBTQ businesses and people

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