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07/26/2013

Video: Union Co. freeholders call for equality, override of Gov. Christie's veto; 'New Jersey has never put civil rights to referendum'

by Jeremy Hooper

Last night, the Board of Chosen Freeholders of New Jersey's seventh most populous county unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the state legislature to override Gov. Chris Christies insistent (and unfortunate) veto of the state's marriage equality bill. Here are couple of clips of what went down, both courtesy of UnionCountyWatchdog.

First, some strong comments from the freeholders about not turning civil rights into a popularity contest:

And here's the testimony that preceded the unanimous vote, including words from the senator who co-sponsors the marriage bill, Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union):

It's way past time in NJ. Let's get it done. My husband and I are pretty sick of downgrading our union every time we cross the Hudson.

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*From Garden State Equality:

UNION COUNTY FREEHOLDERS PASS MARRIAGE EQUALITY RESOLUTION

FREEHOLDERS TO LEGISLATURE: OVERRIDE THE VETO!

ELIZABETH -- Tonight (Thursday, July 25th), the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Union County unanimously passed a pro-equality resolution, initiated by Freeholder Al Mirabella and sponsored by the entire Board, urging the legislature to overturn Governor Chris Christie's veto of marriage equality legislation that originally passed both houses of the legislature in 2012.

The summary of the resolution, as written in the Board's agenda, is as follows:

2013-597 FREEHOLDER ALEXANDER MIRABELLA & THE ENTIRE BOARD: Resolution urging members of the New Jersey State Legislature to overturn Governor Christie's veto of Assembly Bill A-1 and Senate Bill S-1, the "Marriage Equality and Religious Exemptions Act," in wake of the United States Supreme Court Decision striking down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Thirty Garden State Equality members with stickers and pins saying "All Love is Equal" and "I Support Marriage Equality" were present at the meeting when the resolution passed. Several Union County residents, joined by Garden State Equality members from throughout the region, spoke in favor of the resolution.

Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) attended the meeting and also spoke in favor of the resolution.

Garden State Equality's communications director, TJ Helmstetter, spoke at the meeting, and thanked the Board on behalf of GSE's 125,000 members:

"Many with us tonight would like to marry in New Jersey but can't; others are already married but their marriages are unfairly discriminated against by the state; still others are here in support of their family members, friends, and children.

"New Jersey is the next front in our movement's national battle for full equality, and we must not fail. Tonight's resolution puts us one step closer to victory.

"We thank Freeholder Mirabella, the entire Board of Freeholders, and Elizabeth's hometown hero Senator Raymond Lesniak for their pro-equality leadership.

"Elizabeth and Union County should be proud of their elected officials tonight," said Helmstetter.

Following the resolution's passage, Garden State Equality members and activists joined Senator Raymond Lesniak for a reception in celebration of the board's resolution, and they were joined by Freeholder Mirabella after the meeting's conclusion.

Union County's Board of Freeholders is the first county-level governing body to pass a resolution specifically urging the legislature to override Governor Christie's veto.

The Freeholders' vote comes one day following Garden State Equality's announcement that it had formed the "New Jersey United for Marriage" campaign with national and statewide partners in Asbury Park.

AMENDED TO ADD: The full text of the resolution passed tonight is as follows:

WHEREAS, in February of 2012, both the New Jersey State Assembly and the New Jersey State Senate voted in a bipartisan effort to pass a Marriage Equality Bill (A-1). Under the bill, marriage is defined as “the legally recognized union of two consenting persons in a committed relationship.” Under the bill, same-sex civil unions would no longer be permitted; and

WHEREAS, on the very next day the bill was passed, Governor Chris Christie vetoed the legislation, reaffirming his view that voters should decide whether to change the definition of marriage in New Jersey. The Legislature has until January 2014 to round up enough votes to over-ride the Governor's veto; and

WHEREAS, on June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down a key part of a law that denies to legally married same-sex couples the same federal benefits provided to heterosexual spouses. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. But the Supreme Court ruled DOMA violates equal protection guarantees in the Fifth Amendment's due process clause as applied to same-sex couples legally married under the laws of their states; and

WHEREAS, since December 2005, the County of Union has supported and adopted the policies set forth in the Domestic Partnership Act, Chapter 246, P.L 2003 and has recognized the same-sex domestic partners of employees, as defined by the Act, and has deemed them eligible for the same dependent benefits as are provided to a spouse under the State-administered pension funds. All spouse and family health benefits including major medical, dental and insurance available to a spouse or family of a Union County employee or retiree are also available under similar co-pays, premiums, or deductibles to the same sex domestic partner of a County employee or retiree.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Union urges the New Jersey General Assembly and the State Senate to vote to over-ride Governor Chris Christie's veto of the Marriage Equality Bill, and afford the same rights and privileges to same-sex couples that are given to other marriage couples under the law; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this Resolution be forwarded to each County in the State of New Jersey, requesting that they join with Union County in urging swift action in the Legislature on this important issue.

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