NJ judge rules same-sex couples can marry

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Gov. Chris Christie

A New Jersey judge ruled Friday that same-sex couple must be allowed to marry in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling.

The original ruling that paved the way for civil unions in New Jersey specified that if the Legislature didn’t pass marriage equality, civil unions had to be equal.

They never were.

The Legislature set up a commission to follow the law and more than half of the first thousand couples to get a civil union in the state filed complaints of discrimination. UPS announced soon after the civil union law passed that it would not include those couples in its healthcare coverage because it only covers married spouses.

And since the Supreme Court ruled in June, federal benefits go only to married couples, not those in civil unions or domestic partnerships or any other made-up relationship states create.

It’s unclear whether the state will appeal. The Legislature passed marriage equality last year, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it.

 

—  David Taffet

Hours after being vetoed in N.J., same-sex marriage advances in Maryland

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a marriage equality bill Friday evening with a bare minimum of 71 votes to 67. But it did so under the threat of a referendum, and it did so just hours after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie followed through on his promise to veto a marriage equality bill passed by that state’s Legislature on Thursday.

Visitors crowded into the Maryland House erupted into a loud and sustained cheer as the House clerk noted that 71 delegates had voted for the bill.

The vote came after hours of emotional debate that sounded, at times, like a series of sermons — with delegates declaring what they said God has ordained as marriage and warning that same-sex marriage would open the door to polygamy and marriages with children and that it would encourage children to become gay.

Delegate Kathy Afzali, a Republican, said a Democrat in the House begged her to vote against the bill because “it has caused so many churches to split and fracture.” And Republican Michael Smeigiel urged a “no” vote, saying the marriage equality bill would be divisive and that the Legislature should give same-sex couples civil unions.

The Maryland Senate, which passed the bill last year and is likely to do so again this year, is expected to vote in the near future. The bill was sponsored by Maryland’s Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.

A key vote appeared to be that of Delegate Tiffany Alston, a Democrat from suburban Washington, D.C. Alston said she supported the bill last year but that her constituents opposed it so she voted against it. She said she was supporting and voting for the bill this year because the House adopted her amendment to enable a referendum on the issue.

The Alston amendment delays implementation of the new law until any litigation surrounding a possible referendum is resolved and states that, if any part of the law is “held invalid for any reason in a court of competent jurisdiction,” the entire law shall be made null and void.

The bill also won the support of a key Republican, Delegate A. Wade Kach of Baltimore, who backed the bill after getting approval of an amendment moving the effective date of the bill back from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1. Kach said he wanted to ensure that the bill did not have any impact on the November elections.

The House rejected numerous other amendments, including one that would have enabled parents to opt out their children from receiving any sex education that mentioned same-sex marriages; one that prohibited a minor from marrying a person of the same sex; one that sought to require a constitutional amendment allowing same-sex partners to marry; and one that sought to allow for civil unions only.

The vote in the Maryland House of Delegates had been expected on Thursday, Feb. 16, but a flood of amendments and the sudden hospitalization of one of the bill’s supporters pushed that back until Friday. The chamber, which has 141 delegates, needed 71 to pass the bill.

Many opponents of the measure warned during debate that they would seek a referendum on the measure, if passed. Referenda law in Maryland requires that opponents of laws enacted by the Legislature and signed by the governor file 55,736 valid signatures by May 31.

In New Jersey, Christie issued a “conditional veto” against the marriage equality bill there, saying he would create an “Ombudsman for Civil Unions” to “ensure equal treatment under the law.”

Supporters of the marriage bill said they would begin the process to seek votes to overturn Christie’s veto. They will need 27 in the Senate (where the bill passed with 24 votes) and 54 in the Assembly (where it passed with 42). But the Legislature can take two years to overturn that veto.

There is little expectation that supporters of the marriage equality law will seek a referendum in New Jersey, as Christie suggested.
Christie, in his veto statement, said “an issue of this magnitude and importance … requires a constitutional amendment [and] should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide.”

“I continue to encourage the Legislature to trust the people of New Jersey and seek their input by allowing our citizens to vote on a question that represents a profoundly significant societal change,” said Christie. “This is the only path to amend our State Constitution and the best way to resolve the issue of same-sex marriage in our state.”

Unexpectedly, Christie also emphasized his commitment to non-discrimination through his veto statement.

“I have been just as adamant that same-sex couples in a civil union deserve the very same rights and benefits enjoyed by married couples — as well as the strict enforcement of those rights and benefits,” said Christie. “Discrimination should not be tolerated and any complaint alleging a violation of a citizen’s right should be investigated and, if appropriate, remedied. To that end, I include in my conditional veto the creation of a strong Ombudsman for Civil Unions to carry on New Jersey’s strong tradition of tolerance and fairness. The Ombudsman will be charged with increasing awareness of the law regarding civil unions, will provide a clear point of contact for those who have questions or concerns and will be required to report any evidence of the law being violated. In this way, we can ensure equal treatment under the law.”

Lambda Legal Defense still has a lawsuit pending in state court, challenging the validity of the existing civil unions law.

© 2012 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Wash. Gov. Chris Gregoire signs marriage bill, predicts voters will defeat referendum

gregoire.chris

Gov. Christine Gregoire

Gov. Christine Gregoire signed marriage equality into law in Washington state in a ceremony this afternoon. However, same-sex couples can’t begin marrying there yet pending a possibly ballot measure.

State Rep. Jamie Pedersen introduced his partner and future husband and their four children at the signing ceremony. He credited Gregoire with doing more to advance LGBT rights than anyone else in the country. Gregoire supported the state’s original domestic partnership law and anti-bullying legislation.

“This is a very proud moment,” Gregoire said before signing the bill. “I’m proud that our same-sex couples will not be treated as separate but equal. They will be equal.”

Opponents have two options. They can collect signatures to put the marriage-equality law on the ballot and attempt to repeal it. If the law goes on the ballot, marriage cannot start until after the November election and then only if the proposition fails.

Another option would be to put forth a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman. That option would take half the number of signatures to get on the ballot. But the law would go into effect in June, same-sex couples could get married and if the constitutional amendment passes, courts would have to decide if those marriages would remain legal. In California, 18,000 marriages are still considered valid even though Prop 8 stopped the additional marriage licenses from being issued in the state.

If signatures are not collected to stop marriage equality, the law goes into effect in June. In a referendum on Washington’s domestic partnership laws, voters upheld the law with 53 percent of the vote.

“If asked, the voters in Washington will say yes to equality,” Gregoire said.

—  David Taffet

Is NY the Stonewall of marriage equality?

Activists in other states look to capitalize on momentum

DANA RUDOLPH | Keen News Service

Hundreds of same-sex couples married in New York on Sunday, the first day they could legally do so. And just as the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 gave a lift to the nascent movement for equal rights for gays across the country, marriage equality in the Empire State appears to be giving a boost to marriage equality efforts outside its borders.

Activists in at least two states (Maine and Colorado) are pushing for 2012 ballot measures to seek marriage equality there, a lawsuit has been launched in New Jersey for full marriage rights, and in Maryland, a Democratic governor is prepared to follow the example of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, in leading the state legislature to marriage equality.

With the addition of New York, the percentage of same-sex couples living in states that allow them to marry has now more than doubled—from 6.9 percent to 14.3 percent, according to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey by the Williams Institute of UCLA.

And the percentage of the U.S. population living in a state that allows same-sex couples to marry has more than doubled, from 5.1 to 11.4 percent, according to Census 2010 and the Williams Institute.

“Having New York end marriage discrimination is a turning point for the country,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national Freedom to Marry group, in an essay on the group’s Web site June 27, three days after Cuomo signed a marriage equality bill into law. “The world watches New York, and, as New Yorkers say, if we can make it here, we’ll make it anywhere.”

Wolfson noted that passage of the bill in New York was the first time a legislative chamber with a Republican majority — the state Senate — had “voted to advance a bill to end marriage discrimination, and Republican senators provided the winning margin.” He called the bipartisan vote “a major shift in the national political calculus for both parties” that “points the way to more victories.”

The New York Legislature was also the first to pass a marriage bill without first passing civil unions or domestic partnerships, Wolfson said.

In New Jersey, which allows same-sex couples to enter civil unions, but not marriages, Steven Goldstein, the chair of the LGBT advocacy organization Garden State Equality, said in a statement June 24 that “the victory in New York, and its choice of marriage equality over civil union inequality, set the stage for our continuing fight for marriage for same-sex couples in New York’s sister state just a mile away.”

Four days after the New York bill became law, Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, a national LGBT legal group, filed a lawsuit in a New Jersey Superior Court in Trenton on behalf of seven same-sex couples. They argue that the state’s existing civil union laws do not provide the couples with full equality—an equality the state Supreme Court said, in October 2006, is guaranteed by the state constitution.

Garden State Equality also held a rally on July 24, the first day of the New York marriages, at a New Jersey park closest to New York, with a view of the Manhattan skyline across the Hudson River.

In Maryland, where a marriage equality bill passed the state House but failed to pass the Senate in March, Gov. Martin O’Malley seems now to be following the example of Cuomo, saying he will take a more active role in pushing for marriage equality next session.

Cuomo, whom Freedom to Marry’s Wolfson called the “indispensable champion” of the New York bill, had worked closely with marriage equality advocates and sent the initial version of the marriage bill to the Legislature. He then met with legislative leaders to work out a final version of the bill that addressed some lawmakers’ concerns about additional protections for religious groups and the charities and educational institutions they operate.

Maryland’s O’Malley announced July 22 that he would sponsor marriage equality legislation in the 2012 legislative session. He tasked his director of legislative affairs, Joseph Bryce, with coordinating efforts among a broad coalition of LGBT, civil rights, and faith-based groups, as well as people across the state.

O’Malley said at a press conference that the law provides equal protection and the free exercise of religion to all, adding “Other states have found a way to protect both of these fundamental beliefs.”

And in Maine, the executive director of Equality Maine, Betsy Smith, said in a statement June 28 that the “victory in New York generates wind in the sails of the national movement to win marriage, and more specifically, of our efforts here in Maine.”

EqualityMaine and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) announced June 30 that they are taking steps to place a citizen’s initiative on the November 2012 ballot, asking Maine voters to approve a law giving same-sex couples the right to marry. The move comes after a referendum in November 2009 overturned a marriage equality law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor John Baldacci (D) in May 2009.

Colorado may also see a question on its 2012 ballot to approve marriage equality. The state Title Board on July 20 approved language for such a question. Supporters of marriage equality must now collect 86,105 signatures in order to place it on the ballot.

Similar measures could also appear in California and Oregon.

An exception to the trend comes in Minnesota, where the legislature has approved a ballot question that seeks to ban marriage of same-sex couples under the state constitution. It is already banned under state law. The same could happen in North Carolina, where the legislature is considering bills for such a ballot measure.

Cuomo, in a press conference after he signed the marriage equality bill, called New York “a beacon for social justice,” noting that the movements for equally for women, for protection of workers, for preservation of the environment, and for equality of gays each have roots in New York.

“New York,” he said, “made a powerful statement, not just for the people of New York, but the people all across this nation.”

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Suit seeks marriage equality in NJ; White House Pride event; Brown Coffee Co.

The Brown Coffee Co.’s anti-gay tweet

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Lambda Legal and Garden State Equality will announce a lawsuit today on behalf of New Jersey same-sex couples who are demanding that their partnerships be recognized by the state as marriages, not civil unions. The suit comes days after the New York Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage across the Hudson River. The New Jersey Senate in 2010 rejected a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, and GOP Gov. Chris Christie says he would veto any such future legislation. “Gov. Christie says no way will there be marriage equality in New Jersey,” said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality. “And we say no way are we going to listen to him.”

2. Things could get “awkward” this evening at the White House during President Barack Obama’s annual LGBT Pride Month Reception, according to The New York Times. That’s because invitees will be looking to celebrate marriage equality in New York, but their host doesn’t endorse same-sex marriage. Activists from GetEQUAL will be outside the reception handing out “Get Bold To Get Equal Scavenger Hunts,” described as “a fun but meaningful opportunity for attendees to step up the pressure on the Obama administration for full LGBT equality.” Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas, is among those attending the event.

3. A San Antonio-based coffee company provided a bizarre explanation Tuesday for an anti-gay post from its Twitter account Friday night in the wake of the New York Senate’s vote to legalize same-sex marriage. “No human law can ever legitimize what natural law precludes. #SorryFolks #NotEqual #WhyBother #ChasingAfterTheWind #SelfEvident,” read the tweet sent Friday night by The Brown Coffee Co. On Tuesday, the company attempted to explain the tweet on its blog: “This was a post about CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHY and LAWS (a la Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, etc.), not PEOPLE; but somehow people began to twist what was written and added their own lies to the post to mean that somehow we at The Brown Coffee Company are hateful, homophobic, intolerant people. Those are not the facts and we regret that this has descended into something very ugly based on other people’s incorrect reading of the Twitter post.” At least one shop in New York City has stopped buying coffee from Brown Coffee Co. in response to the anti-gay tweet.

—  John Wright

‘Real Trainwreck of New Jersey’ starts tonight

I am an openly gay man who proudly admits: I do a lot of kinda gay stuff (watch the Oscars, shop at Barneys) and a lot of very gay stuff (you know, the sex part), but even I have never been gay enough to get into The Real Housewives. I have caught random episodes, and I know who NeNe is (and that she is insane), but actually paying attention, week after week, to pampered ladies obsessed with clothing bitching about each other? If I want to see that, I’ll go to JR.’s during happy hour.

Still, I do get the appeal — I really do. Everyone on the shows is so into herself, apparently ignorant of how unsympathetic and interesting she must seem to everyone who doesn’t have a chemical dependency to the botulinum toxin, that it can be perverse fun, like the circus freak show. But only in small doses.

I do watch enough of the series as part of my job to recognize that each city represents a different Bravo demographic: Orange County is rich white folks; New York is rich Jewish folks; Atlanta is rich black folks; Miami is rich Hispanic folks. And New Jersey? Well, the Italians, of course.

Of course, we already got to see this series, when it was called The Sopranos. Or Jersey Shore. The characters are the same: Blowsy women in overteased hair. Joi-see accents thick enough to hold a chunky marinara. Goombah men with shady businesses who are either fat and balding or short, muscular and balding. (Apparently, all that extra hair on the women has to come from someplace.) OK, granted, some of those goombahs are pretty hot in that drunk-guy-crashing-a-frat-party-”You think you’re better than me?” dangerous way. But how do you put up with it? (I’ve never watched soap operas, either.)

Season 3 of New Jersey begins tonight with the disappearance of one wife (Danielle), the additional of another, Melissa (sister-in-law of Teresa; Teresa’s brother, Joe — one of the hotties), and unaccountably nasty feelings among them. It’s violent, trashy, foul-mouthed and ugly. But I did enjoy it.

But every week? Well, with Joe doing drag and getting a bathing suit in future episodes, maybe. I don’t wanna have to give back the toaster oven.

Premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on Bravo

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Lambda Legal reopens NJ same-sex marriage case

Although New Jersey lost the marriage battle after a 14-20 Senate vote earlier this year, same-sex couples aren’t giving up or waiting for a Democrat to return to the governor’s mansion.

Eh, what exit are ya?
Eh, what exit are ya?

In its original 2006 ruling, along with civil unions, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the state to study whether that solution was truly equal. Of the first 1,000 people who were civilly united, half filed complaints of unequal treatment. The intent was for civil unions for same-sex couples to be equal to marriage for opposite-sex couples.

The Newark Star Ledger reported:

Civil union couples still have trouble being recognized as next-of-kin by employers when they seek benefits and by hospital officials when one partner is ill. Not surprisingly, this separate institution turns out to be unequal.

So the couples who filed the original complaint are going back to court. They are demanding an upgrade from second class civil unions to marriage equality.

In her dissent in the original case, Chief Justice Deborah Poritz wrote, “What we name things matters, language matters.”

On March 18, Lambda Legal filed a motion to reactivate Lewis v. Harris, the original New Jersey same-sex marriage case. They submitted evidence to the court to show that with marriage, separate isn’t equal.

And befaw I hear from anyone from Joisey about my cherse a pikchas, my fatha’s from Nutley.

—  David Taffet

NJ votes down same-sex marriage

Gov. Jon Corzine
Gov. Jon Corzine

The New Jersey Senate voted down same-sex marriage by a 20-14 vote this afternoon.

The Senate had put off a vote in December when they did not have the votes to pass the measure. Under pressure from LGBT equality groups, the issue did make it to the Senate floor so that legislators who had promised to support the measure would have to go on record either for or against it.

Had the bill passed the Senate, it would have gone to the Assembly on Monday.

The state was under deadline to pass the marriage equality bill. Gov. Jon Corzine promised to sign it had the bill come to his desk. Incoming Gov. Chris Christie opposes same-sex marriage and said he would veto the measure.

With this defeat, same-sex marriage is effectively dead legislatively in New Jersey for at least the next four years.

New Jersey does have civil unions, however. Those remain in effect. When the legislature passed civil unions, they also created a commission to study whether those who got a civil union received the same benefits as those who were married. Of the first 1,000 couples who received a civil union, more than half filed discrimination complaints. Separate was not equal.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont remain the only states with same-sex marriage.

In a statement, Gov. Corzine said,  “While I appreciate the Senate’s willingness to publicly debate the marriage equality bill, I am deeply disappointed by the final tally on this common-sense measure that would have assured equal rights for all New Jerseyans.

“Most assuredly, this is an issue of civil rights and civil liberties, the foundation of our state and federal constitutions.  Denying any group of people a fundamental human right because of who they are, or whom they love, is wrong, plain and simple.”

“As was the case when Americans faced legal discrimination on the basis of their race or gender, history will frown on the denial of the basic right of marriage equality.  I regret that the state’s recognition of equal justice and equal treatment under the law will be delayed.  Certainly this process and the resulting debate is historic, but unfortunately, today’s vote was squarely on the wrong side of history.”

In a statement from Garden State Equality executive director Steven Goldstein said, “He said that there will be an announcement soon about new legal action in coordination with Lambda Legal.

—  David Taffet

N.J. Senate debates marriage equality

The New Jersey Senate is debating a bill this afternoon that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Garden State. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill later today. You can watch live by going here.

—  John Wright

N.J. Senate to take up marriage equality

The N.J. Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Garden State, NBC New York is reporting today. Time is of the essence, because outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine has said he would sign the bill into law if it passes, whereas incoming Gov. Chris Christie, who’ll be sworn in Jan. 19, has said he’d veto it. If the bill passes the Senate, it must then go to the State Assembly, which would have to hold its final vote next Monday, the last day of the legislative session. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here’s the text of a press release that just came across the wires from the N.J. Senate Democratic caucus:

TRENTON — Senate President Richard J. Codey (D-Essex) today announced that the full Senate will consider bill S1967 — the “Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act”— at the voting session scheduled for this Thursday.

“Given the intensely personal nature of this issue, I think the people of this state deserve the right to a formal debate on the Senate floor,” Codey said. “I’d like to commend both sides of this issue for their passionate advocacy thus far and the heartfelt testimony that we have heard.”

The Senate voting session is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 7. Further information on accommodations for the media and the general public will be released tomorrow.

—  John Wright