The vote was scheduled to take place Thursday -- three days after the bill squeaked through a committee -- but the primary sponsors, Democratic state Sens. Loretta Weinberg and Raymond Lesniak, requested the delay the night before, saying they wanted to see it voted on in the Assembly first.
Backers of "gay marriage" began the year on a high note with a string of victories in Iowa and three New England states but have since suffered losses in Maine and New York -- dealing a blow to their mantra that marriage redefinition nationwide is inevitable.
The New Jersey bill now advances to the six-member Assembly Judiciary Committee but has not been scheduled for a vote and may not be considered until early January -- if at all -- when committees are next scheduled to meet. Democrats hold a 4-2 edge on the panel. Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., who supports the bill and will determine if and when it is heard, released a statement saying he was disappointed the vote was delayed but understand the reasoning.
"I must emphasize that no hearing has been scheduled and that I am continuing to discuss this issue with our caucus to gauge whether there is enough support for it," he said.
Supporters are hurrying to get the bill to the desk of Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine before he leaves office Jan. 19. He supports the bill but his successor, Republican Chris Christie, opposes it. Weinberg was Corzine's running mate in his failed bid for a second term.
Weinberg and Lesniak were quoted as saying the vote was delayed not because of a lack of support but instead because they wanted the Assembly to have the same opportunity to hear from citizens on the matter, as happened Monday when the bill passed a Senate committee, 7-6. Garden State Equality, the state's leading homosexual group, supported the delay, with its executive director, Steven Goldstein, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer, "It's not a setback ... we think it's a good thing."
The bill's opponents, though, weren't buying the excuse.
Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes the bill, told Baptist Press, "The reason they delayed the vote was because they didn't have the votes. If they had had the votes they would have posted the bill.... It's a last-ditch effort because they knew they were going to fail in the Senate so they're going to try and prolong it and see what they can do so they don't have another loss like New York on their hands."
A "gay marriage" bill in the New York Senate was thought to have a chance at passage but instead was soundly defeated Dec. 2, 38-24. Democrats control that body by only two votes and hold a 23-17 advantage in the New Jersey Senate. Democrats have a 47-33 advantage in the Assembly, where the bill has 12 sponsors.
Four New Jersey Senate Democrats already had publicly stated they would vote against the bill, and there apparently were more. One Republican senator told the Inquirer he had heard of nine Democrats who opposed the bill. Only one Republican publicly supports it.
Although it was thought the New Jersey Assembly likely would pass the bill, Brown -- whose organization is spending $500,000 on radio ads in the state and played a major role in conservative wins in Maine and New York -- believes his side can win there as well.
"I think with work we're also going to see that they won't have the votes in the Assembly," he said. "... Right now, I don't think that they have the votes on the floor. But we have a lot of work to do. I'm not saying this is a done deal."
Supporters of the bill now likely will try to attract votes by adding language to the bill supposedly protecting religious liberty -- something that the Senate committee did. That language was aimed at protecting churches and religious organizations but did nothing to protect private business, such as a photography business whose owners are morally opposed to "gay marriage." It also did not address the problem of "gay marriage" being taught in public schools.
If "gay marriage" is defeated in New Jersey following losses in Maine and New York, Brown said, it could have a major impact on conservative-leaning states -- such as Iowa and New Hampshire -- where "gay marriage" is legal. Pro-family groups are working to elect likeminded legislators in those states in 2010 to reverse the state's new marriage laws.
"What we need to do now is go on the offensive in places like Iowa and New Hampshire," Brown said. "In New Hampshire, the legislature forced same-sex marriage on that state and didn't allow a direct vote. We're going to make sure that every single voter in the state of New Hampshire knows which way their legislature voted. I'm confident that as they know that, you're going to see a lot of people losing their seats coming 2010.
"I think that's also the case in Iowa.... You can't tell me that we can defeat same-sex marriage in New York but we can't in Iowa. That doesn't make any sense at all. We can win in Iowa and we will win in Iowa but we have to make sure that the people that are elected are going to represent their constituents' interests and not big money, extremely liberal, same-sex marriage advocates' interests."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For information on the National Organization for Marriage, visit NationForMarriage.org.
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