Civil marriage bill, impeachment of Supreme Court justices offered as legislative solutions
TRENTON, N.J. Two state lawmakers on opposite sides in the gay marriage debate pressed their agendas on Nov. 9, with one introducing legislation that would allow gay couples to marry civilly while the other proposed impeaching the seven state Supreme Court justices who granted marriage rights to same-sex couples.
A leading gay marriage proponent in the Legislature, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, offered a bill that would open civil marriages to “any two consenting adults committed to a permanent relationship” and would protect religious institutions from having to perform or recognize such unions.
A leading gay marriage foe, Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris, meanwhile, proposed impeaching the state Supreme Court justices who last month extend the rights of same-sex couples beyond the domestic partner benefits they now have.
Both lawmakers were responding to last month’s high court ruling giving full rights of marriage to same-sex couples in New Jersey and giving the Legislature six months to rewrite marriage laws.
“Reed Gusciora’s bill is about hope and Richard Merkt’s is so preposterous it’s inducing laughter,” said Steven Goldstein, who heads the gay rights group Garden State Equality. “Merkt is actually preventing others who may share his views from being able to discuss the issue in a rational manner.”
Gusciora said it is important to distinguish between marriages performed by a judge or mayor and those by a clergy member. Equally important, Gusciora said, is to shield religious institutions from having to recognize partnerships that go against their teachings or doctrines.
“This bill defines marriages as civil and religious, instead of gay and straight,” Gusciora said. “By defining it in such a way, we are protecting the values traditionally associated with marriage while also extending equal rights to all New Jersey citizens.”
“This is a way to comply with the Supreme Court edict and do it without shocking the consciousness of a society that is still adapting to modern marriage,” he said.
John Tomicki, president of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage, took issue with the provisions in the bill.
“The assemblyman’s bill completely destroys the term “‘marriage,”‘ Tomicki said. “There is no guarantee based upon other decisions of courts that a minister would be allowed to refuse to solemnize such a union. He should instead be willing to submit the definition of marriage to a constitutional amendment and let the people decide.”
Gusciora’s bill would charge couples $50 for a civil marriage. The fee would go into the state’s general fund.
Merkt, meanwhile, introduced seven resolutions in the Assembly on Nov. 9 charging each state Supreme Court justice with misconduct in public office and with violating their oaths and the state constitution.
The offenses are impeachable, but the Assembly would first have to charge the justices, then the Senate would have to try them. Acknowledging that such actions are improbable at best, Merkt said he is hoping to stir debate among his legislative colleagues.
He said he wrote to every one of his peers in the Legislature urging them to “defend people’s rights to have laws made by elected officials,” not by judicial appointees.
He said the New Jersey high court has a long history of legislating from the bench, citing the Mount Laurel affordable housing and Abbott school funding cases, among others.
The gay marriage ruling is just “the latest example of what has been a chronic problem in New Jersey for the past six decades,” he said. “The court has evolved into a judicial bully.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, November 17, 2006.