Gay Marriage Issue Resurfaces in N.J. Legislature
The focus of the gay-marriage debate shifts to Trenton, N.J., where a state Supreme Court ruling declared that gay couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples. It is now up to state legislators to decide what form those rights will take. They could opt for Vermont-style civil unions or approve gay marriage.
Gay-rights groups are holding meetings all over New Jersey to organize an army of lobbyists, enough for all 40 of the state's legislative districts.
Rose Hardy of Newark was there with her partner. Hardy says she had to get involved once she heard the legislature, not the court, was going to have the final say whether New Jersey opens marriage to same-sex couples.
"I have never gotten this involved," Hardy says. "I've written some letters and I always vote if it's a local to a national, but I have never been so passionate about something."
Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, has hailed the ruling for guaranteeing same-sex couples equal legal protections, but he has avoided using the term "marriage" -- instead, he's pushing for civil unions.
On the other end of the political spectrum, Assemblyman Guy Gregg, a Republican from Sussex County, has introduced a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to heterosexuals.
"Marriage in this country and this great state should be between one man and one woman," Gregg says.
Gregg and many other conservatives say the gay marriage ruling is only the latest of many in which the New Jersey Supreme Court went beyond interpreting the Constitution and started setting government policy. Gregg would like to see the legislature defy the court and refuse to take any action on gay marriage or civil unions.
Democrats have majorities in both houses of the legislature -- the Assembly speaker and Senate president say they think only a civil-unions bill would win enough votes to pass.
Two polls taken since the Supreme Court's ruling show that under 30 percent of New Jersey residents support same-sex marriage. Civil unions get between 40 and 50 percent.
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