New Jersey Solidifies Marriage Equality

Election night event hosted by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy in Asbury Park
Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey signed the marriage equality bill on January 10.
REUTERS/Rachel Wisniewski

Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey signed a bill codifying marriage equality in the state after lawmakers scrambled to pass the law as a safeguard against any future legal challenges at the federal level.

“Despite the progress we have made as a country, there is still much work to be done to protect the LGBTQ+ community from intolerance and injustice,” Murphy said after signing the bill on January 10. “New Jersey is stronger and fairer when every member of our LGBTQ+ family is valued and given equal protection under the law. I am honored to sign legislation that represents our New Jersey values and codifies marriage equality into state law.”

Marriage equality has been legal in New Jersey since a 2013 state Supreme Court ruling, which followed then-Governor Chris Christie’s veto of a marriage bill in the State Legislature. Lawmakers sought to codify the law in the aftermath of the court ruling, but that effort was stymied when advocates pointed to the inclusion of religious exemptions in the legislation.

This time around, the marriage equality bill featured no such religious exemptions.

The latest legislative push comes more than six years after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of nationwide marriage rights in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case. But with a conservative Supreme Court and the precarious state of abortion rights, advocates have underscored the importance of taking steps to protect marriage equality.

“We have talked about this a few times in the past with our legislative allies,” Lauren Albrecht, a policy consultant for Garden State Equality, told Gay City News in a phone interview December 13. “We can never be sure about anything. When it comes to equal rights for our community, we can’t leave it up for chance.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney carried the marriage equality bill in the upper chamber after he abstained from a previous version of the bill. Assemblymember Valerie Vainieri Huttle of Bergen led the bill in the lower house.

“This is about acting to ensure equal treatment and civil rights for all New Jerseyans, including same-sex couples,” Sweeney said in a written statement. “Marriage equality respects the rights of loving couples who deserve to be treated equally. The courts have ruled that same-sex marriages are a fundamental right, but we want to put it into statute to protect against any backtracking by the U. S. Supreme Court. It is the right thing to do.”

Steven Goldstein, the founder of Garden State Equality, celebrated the bill’s passage as he acknowledged the shift in the state’s political climate dating back to the time when the marriage legislation was vetoed.

“How the world has changed since last time the legislature passed marriage equality in 2012,” Goldstein said. “This time we have a governor who is a champion of civil and human rights second to none. I am also thrilled this new statute marks the final law steered to passage by our equality legend Senator Loretta Weinberg. What a fitting, crowning legacy.”