The New Jersey Senate [official website] on Monday voted 24-16 to approve the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act [text, PDF], a bill which, if enacted, would legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] in the state. Under the bill, marriage would be defined as the "legally recognized union of two consenting persons in a committed relationship." The legislation would not require any member of the clergy or religious institution to perform same-sex marriages, or provide space for same-sex marriage services. The bill would also effectively end the state's current civil union system, with all partners currently in civil unions being deemed married. The NJ State Assembly is expected to vote on the bill Thursday, and if it is approved the legislation will move to Governor Chris Christie [official website] for his signature or veto. Christie has indicated that he plans to veto the bill [WSJ report], suggesting that the same-sex marriage issue should be put on the ballot for New Jersey citizens to decide. Senate President Stephen Sweeney [official website] has expressed confidence [Star-Ledger report] in being able to override a veto by Christie, and rejected the idea of a public referendum on a civil rights issue. In order to override such a veto, 27 votes will be needed in the Senate and 54 votes in the Assembly.
The approval of the bill by the NJ Senate marks a shift on the issue of same-sex marriage in the state from last year, when a similar bill was defeated [JURIST report] in the Senate. In November, a lawsuit [JURIST report] was allowed to continue in New Jersey, which seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against the state civil union law as a contravention of both the Fourteenth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] and the New Jersey State Constitution. On Monday, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire [official website] signed legislation [HB 6239] legalizing same-sex marriage [JURIST report], and making Washington the eighth jurisdiction in the US to offer marriage to same-sex couples. Same-sex marriage has previously been legalized in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia [JURIST reports]. The case for same-sex marriage was recently made by JURIST contributor Kimberly Bennett in Judicial Activism and the Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage [JURIST op-ed].