UNION COUNTY – The legal recognition of marriage between same sex couples has been a topic of heated debate for years in the United States and New Jersey. Last week, the Union County Freeholder Board took a strong stance on the issue and they could be the first county governing body to do so in the state.
The all Democratic board adopted the resolution urging members of the New Jersey Senate to overturn Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of senate and assembly bills that would have legalized same sex marriage. The governor has said there should be a referendum on the issue so voters can have their say on the matter. However, legislators have until January to override Christie’s veto.
The resolution also called for 20 other counties in the state to join Union County in supporting the override. The bill, which passed with bipartisan support in February 2012, was vetoed by the governor shortly after.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court found key provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, to be unconstitutional.
“As the site of pivotal events in the Revolutionary War, New Jersey has played a historic role in the fight for equal rights under the law,” said Freeholder Chairman Linda Carter, adding the county “is proud to carry on this great tradition by working to ensure that the uniquely important social contract of marriage is equally available to all men and women.”
Democratic state lawmakers have vowed to keep marriage equality in the spotlight and have kept their word. Legislators continue to claim Christie is standing in the way of progress, but the governor does not agree.
“If the people of the state of New Jersey want to amend our constitution in order to make same-sex marriage legal and permissible in the state they have every right to do it, and the only people who can give them that opportunity is the New Jersey State Legislature,” Christie said in July on Townsquare’s Media “Ask the Governor.”
The governor has consistently said if voters decide to amend the constitution to allow same sex marriage, he would uphold the law. Freeholder Alexander Mirabella felt things should not have to go that far in order for same sex couples to have the right to marry under the law.
“Especially when you consider the many New Jersey residents from all walks of life who go the extra mile to serve our nation and our communities, both as professionals and volunteers, it is high time to ensure that all who choose to adopt the responsibilities of marriage be accorded equal recognition under the law,” the freeholder said.
The topic of defining marriage has long been a subject of controversy in the United States and a political football.
The movement in the United States to obtain marriage rights and benefits for same-sex couples began in the 1970s, but became more prominent in U.S. politics in 1993 when the Hawaii Supreme Court declared the state’s prohibition to be unconstitutional. During the 21st century public support for same-sex marriage has grown considerably.
National polls conducted since 2011 show legalization is supported by a majority of Americans. Recently a poll conducted in New Jersey showed 60 percent of residents were in favor of same-sex marriage. A Gallup poll conducted this year indicated 58 percent of American people supported legal recognition for same-sex marriage, while 53 percent would vote for a law legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states. Gallup poll takers pointed out that just three years ago support for gay marriage was 44 percent. The current 53 percent level of support is double the 27 percent in Gallup’s initial poll on same-sex marriage taken in 1996.
On May 9, 2012, President Barack Obama became the first United States president to publicly declare support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. On Nov. 6, 2012, Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first states to legalize same sex marriage through popular vote.
Prior to 1996 the federal government did not define marriage and any marriage recognized by the state was also recognized by the federal government. Even if that marriage was not recognized by other states, the federal government still recognized it as legal.
Currently 37 states have passed laws which define marriage as limited to a union between one man and one woman. Thirty-three state legislatures have passed statutes to that effect and four states, Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska and Nevada, passed Defense of Marriage Acts, or DOMAs, as constitutional amendments by popular vote. The Ohio state legislature is currently debating a Defense of Marriage Act. Currently 13 states do not have any laws on the books limiting marriage to a union between one man and one woman.
The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, enacted in 1996, allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed under laws in other states. Section three DOMA prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages until June 26 when it was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
While several jurisdictions have legalized same-sex marriage through court rulings, legislative action and popular vote, six states prohibit it by statute while 29 prohibit it in their constitutions. As of July, 11 state governments, including Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Maryland, Washington and Delaware, along with the District of Columbia, allow same-sex marriage. The states of Rhode Island and Minnesota will join them this month; This brings the total to 30 percent of the population. New Jersey has moved forward, passing domestic partner legislation in 2007 joining Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon and Wisconsin. But Democrat State Senator Ray Lesniak said much more can and should be done.
“Our founding fathers declared that ‘all men are created equal,’ but it is up to each generation to ensure that this declaration of principle is reflected in the law of the land,” Lesniak said at the freeholder meeting last week, adding “the Marriage Equality Bill is consistent with the recent Supreme Court ruling and should become law in New Jersey.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has been very outspoken and supportive of same sex marriage in the state, pointing out that gay and lesbian people from New Jersey serve in the military, keep communities safe as firefighters and police officers, staff hospitals, rebuild infrastructure, pay taxes and raise families.
“Yet New Jersey has denied them the freedom to marry and instead has set up a separate system of civil unions that treats them as second-class couples. It’s time for legislators to do what is right and end this discrimination,” said a spokesperson for the ACLU.