Same-Sex Marriage: It’s Time for the Legislature to Take a Stand

Regardless of where you stand on the volatile issue of same-sex marriage, you deserve a decision from the New Jersey State Legislature.

Now after some hesitation by state lawmakers, it looks like there will be one. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo has agreed to post a bill to legalize same sex marriage on Monday, and Senate President Richard Codey said he will schedule a vote before the full Senate on Thursday if the measure is approved by Sarlo’s committee.

Although it had been widely expected that the legislature would take up the bill during the current lame-duck session, some lawmakers – fearing repercussions – became reluctant to take a public stance on the controversial measure. “I’m not going to put people in harm’s way where they have to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when we don’t have the votes to get it out (of committee),” Sarlo had said before he changed his position and agreed to post the bill.

At least give Sarlo credit for his candor. Other lawmakers had offered more transparent excuses, such as the need to address the state’s mounting fiscal problems. Don’t get me wrong. Clearly, the economy must be a priority for this and future legislatures, but it need not become an excuse for avoiding other issues. No matter what the issue is, lawmakers have a responsibility to make tough decisions, not to avoid them.  That is why we elect them. We place our faith and trust them to do what is right. If we disagree or are unhappy with their actions, we have an opportunity to vote them out of office.

But when solutions to the difficult issues confronting elected officials are politically untenable, action can be stifled. Perhaps this is why, over the years, the state has yet to come to grips with some of the root causes of its high property tax rates.

Ironically, the repercussions of taking a stance on same-sex marriage may not be as great as they are being perceived. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released last month found that New Jerseyans favor same-sex marriage by a margin of 46 to 42 percent and that only 15 percent of the respondents consider it a very important issue.

“Residents of New Jersey are more supportive of gay marriage than opposed to it, and more importantly a majority would accept a legislative decision legalizing same-sex marriages,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and a political science professor at the university. “While this tests opinion outside the intensity of a campaign to ban gay marriage as occurred in California, there is more of a ‘live and let live’ attitude in New Jersey than in many other states that have dealt with this issue.”

A Quinnipiac University poll, also released in November, showed respondents opposing same-sex marriage by a 49-46 margin. Although the opposition numbers were higher, the figures indicate that a substantial portion of the New Jersey citizenry supports legalization.

Poll results aside, the results of last month’s gubernatorial election also suggest that social issues are not high on the agenda when voters cast their ballots. Republican Chris Christie ousted incumbent Governor Jon Corzine even though Christie’s positions on same-sex marriage, abortion and other social issues are not shared by sizeable numbers of citizens in New Jersey, which is regarded as one of the more progressive states in the nation. The economy was the priority for New Jersey voters, and they put their faith in Christie to guide the state for the next four years.

We can learn a number of lessons from what transpired at the polls last month. Among them is the fact that voters are willing to look at the big picture and vote for the candidate they feel is best equipped for the job, even if they don’t agree with him or her on every single issue. Hopefully, this is a lesson that New Jersey lawmakers will take heed of.

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