Black NJ leaders: No public vote on civil rights

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

ANGELA DELLI SANTI  |  Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. — Two of New Jersey’s most influential black leaders blasted Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday for proposing gay marriage be put to a popular vote in November, but the Republican governor insisted he’s offering a reasonable compromise amid his personal opposition to same-sex nuptials.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Newark Mayor Cory Booker said in separate forums that civil rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and don’t belong on the ballot.

Booker said baseball great Jackie Robinson would not have had the opportunity to break the sport’s color barrier had the matter been put to a vote, and the mayor himself would not have had the opportunity, years later, to be elected to lead New Jersey’s largest city. Oliver said in a statement she was offended by Christie’s comment Tuesday that bloodshed may have been avoided in the South, and people would have been happier, if the civil rights issues of the 1960s were settled by public referendum.

“Governor, people were fighting and dying in the streets of the South because the majority refused to grant minorities equal rights by any method,” Oliver said. “It took legislative action to bring justice to all Americans, just as legislative action is the right way to bring marriage equality to all New Jerseyans.”

Booker said during a news conference in Newark: “Dear God, we should not be putting civil rights issues to a popular vote, to be subject to the sentiments, the passions of the day. No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and the sentiments of the majority. This is the fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for.”

Christie defended himself at a Statehouse news conference, saying he’s offering a compromise on gay marriage.

“I’m in divided government and I’m trying to find a way for people … to find another pathway where everybody can have a chance to get what they want,” he said. “My view is a public referendum on a constitutional amendment regarding same-sex marriage is a way to get to that result.”

Six states and Washington, D.C. permit gay marriages. Thirty-one states have adopted constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The effort to legalize same-sex marriage gained new momentum this month when the Democratic-controlled Senate declared the issue a priority for the new legislative session. The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the measure in an 8-4 party-line vote following a three-hour hearing on Tuesday, but Christie upended their efforts by announcing that he would veto any gay marriage bill that made it to his desk. He previously said he would consider the bill but was unlikely to change his mind.

A gay marriage bill failed in the Senate two years ago.

Christie said during the 2009 campaign that the issue should be put to a public vote because of its significance, and he reiterated that call on Tuesday, likely derailing any Republican legislators from supporting gay marriage legislation.

A day earlier, the governor, who is Catholic, surprised almost everyone by nominating an openly gay black Republican and a Korean-born immigrant to the state Supreme Court.

With Christie seeking a referendum on gay marriage and Democratic leaders issuing a resounding “no way”’ a protracted political standoff seemed inevitable.

Christie acknowledged that eventuality Wednesday, saying: “We all know how this movie is going to end. If they pass the bill, it’s going to be vetoed. If they attempt to override the veto, it will be sustained. So, I’m trying to give them an alternative movie.”

Other black Democrats weighed in later in the day.

“If the governor was hoping to defend his reprehensible stance on marriage equality by suggesting that those who fought and died for civil rights in this county would have preferred a referendum, that by all historical accounts would have been most likely defeated, he failed miserably,” said Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman, former Assembly majority leader.

—  John Wright

Major League Baseball to ban anti-gay discrimination after letter from Resource Center

Rafael_McDonnell

Rafael McDonnell

Major League Baseball is set to ban anti-gay discrimination as part of a new collective bargaining agreement to be released today, following a request from Resource Center Dallas.

Last month, after the National Football League added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy, Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell penned a letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig calling for pro baseball to follow suit.

McDonnell received responses from both Selig and MLB Executive Vice President Robert Manfred Jr. (Read their letters here and here.)

“While it is my policy not to comment on matters currently on the table, I think it is safe to say the issue you have raised will be addressed in a positive way,” Manfred wrote to McDonnell on Nov. 3.

Today, the New York Daily News is reporting that the new MLB collective bargaining agreement — which is set to be released this afternoon — does in fact ban anti-gay discrimination. From the Daily News:

Major League Baseball, which saw Jackie Robinson break the color barrier in 1947, Tuesday will announce incremental progress in another civil rights issue. The new collective bargaining agreement adds “sexual orientation” to its section on discrimination, a person with direct knowledge of the agreement told the Daily News.

Article XV, Section A of the MLB’s expiring Basic Agreement, in effect from 2006-2011, states: “The provisions of this Agreement shall be applied to all Players covered by this Agreement without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”

In the new agreement, which will be made public Tuesday afternoon, the words “sexual orientation” will be added to the equivalent section.

McDonnell has also written a letter to the National Basketball Association calling for the NBA to ban anti-gay discrimination, but he said he has yet to receive a response.

Major League Soccer added sexual orientation protections in 2004, while the National Hockey League did so in 2005.

—  John Wright