Out Assemblyman Reed Gusciora introduced legislation that would put marriage equality on the ballot for voters to decide.
Gusciora introduced his bill weeks after unprecedented LGBT success at the ballot last month, where voters in three states approved marriage-equality laws and in one state defeated a ban on same-sex marriage.
While Gusciora previously opposed the notion of a voter referendum to decide marriage equality, he told PGN this week that a number of factors changed his mind.
In February, the New Jersey legislature for the first time approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, a bill led by Gusciora. Republican Gov. Chris Christie, however, vetoed the measure. Proponents have until January 2014 to muster enough votes to override the veto.
Gusciora said that, in order to achieve an override, advocates would need to generate three new votes in the Senate and 12 in the Assembly — all from Republicans.
“Out of the 66 affirmative votes we got in the Assembly and Senate, two were from Republicans,” Gusciora said. “If you really think you can muster 15 Republican votes during Christie’s re-election year, I think that’s just not going to work too well.”
Gusciora said that advocates pushing for the veto override, including LGBT-rights group Garden State Equality, have “boxed themselves in” in not considering the possibility that voters could approve marriage equality.
“I’m the first one to agree that civil rights should not be on the ballot. But I think we at least have a fighting chance doing it this way,” he said. “I also think we need to look at the younger generation. College and high-school students are very enthusiastic about this issue, and I think we’re missing the opportunity to have young people engaged in the political process. If you look at Garden State Equality’s talking points, they say that the majority of people in New Jersey are in favor of marriage equality. I think we should stand up to that and prove it.”
Gusciora’s new plan was not well received by Garden State Equality and fellow Democrats.
In a joint statement with Freedom to Marry and Human Rights Campaign, Garden State Equality reiterated its opposition to a ballot initiative, saying such efforts are “offensive to the rights of minorities and hold unspeakable potential for divisiveness.”
Senate President Stephen Sweeney — who previously abstained from voting on a marriage-equality bill but earlier this year cast a vote in support — said he would not allow Gusciora’s new bill to progress through the Senate.
Fellow lawmaker Sen. Raymond Lesniak and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg have also come out against Gusciora’s proposal.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, also a proponent of marriage equality, has not confirmed if she will actively block the measure from coming up for debate.
In vetoing the measure, Christie said he supported letting voters decide the issue.
His office did not respond to a request for comment from PGN this week.
While his proposal got a mixed response, Gusciora urged advocates to consider all possibilities for achieving marriage equality.
“The gay movement is not monolithic with one organization with one viewpoint, but represents many faces and many different views,” he said. “Yes, I think we should try to override the veto of my bill, but we need to do all of it — continue the court challenge, put it on the ballot and attempt to override, which has the least chance of success. We need all options on the table. We need to rise to the challenge like many other civil-rights activists have done over history; for us to go back in the closet sets a poor example.”