Two of the more hotly contested issues in the state of New Jersey and nationally over the last several months have been same sex marriage and gun violence reform. The dual decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court about a month ago related to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 set off opinions from those in favor and those against the two successful verdicts for same sex marriage advocates. New Jersey has come up short twice passing same sex marriage legislation to legalize it in the state and the second time was due to a veto from Governor Chris Christie. Roughly as big during the first half of 2013 has been a call for gun violence reform to prevent tragedies like Newtown, Connecticut from occurring again. Similarly to same sex marriage, the Democratic-led State Legislature has been hard at work crafting several pieces of legislation only to see a Christie veto strike down multiple ones while the rest sit waiting for a decision.
Christie naturally is primarily focused on his reelection campaign for governor while also keeping some attention towards 2016 and a potential run to the White House with his challenging of Republicans in Congress at various times. He deflects criticism left and right regarding his lack of action or stonewalling nature with either same sex marriage or gun violence reform in the Garden State. Passing something related to either or both would likely lose him a great deal of potential support from the conservative wing of the GOP. However, in a Democratic-leaning state; Christie must not allow himself to skew too much to the right as it could turn off independent voters and conservative Democrats who have been a major reason for his success in 2009 and strong polling through much of the year.
With all that said, advocates for both issues have not sat idly by and continue to challenge Christie to take action. A few days ago, a coalition of local and national groups gathered in Asbury Park to pressure Christie and Republicans in the State Legislature to finally pass same sex marriage in New Jersey. National campaigns for same sex marriage joined Garden State Equality and the American Civil Union of New Jersey. The national groups that came to New Jersey have also been to local states like New York and Delaware in assisting them push legislation pass the finish line.
As Troy Stevenson, Executive Director of Garden State Equality, would express;
“We’ve fought hard in New Jersey. We’ve done a lot of amazing work. In any other state we would have won by now. For nine long years, Garden State Equality and our 130,000 members have marched a marathon towards equality, and we’ve reached the final stretch. All up and down the Northeastern seaboard of this country right now — from Ogunquit, Maine, to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware — gay couples are getting married in beaches just like this, but not in New Jersey and not in Asbury Park.”
Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, would add,
“With striking down of DOMA, the inequality between New Jersey and our neighbors like New York and Delaware is now more pronounced than ever. New Jersey’s civil unions system is now responsible for the denial of hundreds of benefits to same-sex couples here in New Jersey.”
Christie has been pretty vocal about his belief that people are born with their sexual preference and gay couples in the state have all the rights and benefits of married couples through civil unions. However, with the overturning of DOMA; there are several federal mandates that civil union couples are not entitled to that a married couple would have.
Christie has also been vocal about putting the issue of same sex marriage before voters in a referendum.
Advocates like Stevenson and Ofer are fighting against the clock on this matter as well since there is only about six months left for the State Legislature to override Christie’s veto.
The fight for same sex marriage in New Jersey also has a new message and campaign under the heading of “New Jersey United for Marriage” as advocates take their message to voters in the state.
Gay marriage is legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
While advocates for same sex marriage were gathering in Asbury Park, gun violence reform advocates were assembling in Trenton to equally voice a concern they have with the current administration’s stance on an issue.
Just as those in Asbury Park called for fast legislation and change, the same could be heard and said for a different topic in Trenton as several gun bills were either vetoed or ignored by Christie and many were not letting that slide.
One of the primary speakers was Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15) calling for legislation to upgrade penalties for gun dealers who knowingly sell straw purchasers as well legislation to call upon police to report certain firearms information to electronic databases. Those are only two of the list of gun violence reform bills the State Legislature has passed that also includes requiring prospective buyers in private sales to first undergo a background check by a federally licensed dealer.
Watson Coleman would voice,
“This governor has more than a dozen no-brainer government gun protection legislation on this desk, from identifying who’s buying to tracking who’s buying to tracking who’s selling. Simply things like confiscating automobiles that have illegal guns found in them, the same kind of thing you do when you find illegal drugs.”
At the rally; Bryan Miller, Director of Heeding God’s Call to End Violence, would also exclaim;
“It’s very easy to get guns from Pennsylvania. From the most recent data from ATF, only 20 percent of the guns recovered in crime from our state were originally purchased in our state. This is a significant issue to us, and the governor has a chance to deal with it in some ways.”
Irene Goldman of the Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton would add,
“Once you see it as the health of the person who is getting shot and the health of the person who is doing the shooting, it’s a much bigger problem. These shootings aren’t just happening in Trenton. They’re happening all over our country.”
Trenton was an almost ideal location to hold this event as Trenton has already seen as many homicides in 2013 after only seven months as they saw in 2012.
Speaking to that Watson Coleman would outline,
“You can’t know where you can travel in the city of Trenton. There have been incidences on Hanover, Passaic, Spring Street — those are corridors into the state capital. Those are the roads that are traveled by people who come here every day expecting to get to their jobs, to have a productive day, and to move on and go home. But that’s not what’s happening in Trenton.”
While gun violence reform advocates were calling upon changes in Trenton, the New Jersey Second Amendment Society was urging voters to reach out to Christie to prevent him from passing any of the proposed legislation forwarded to him. Doing so would allow them to enter a contest that would garner them a firearm in return.
The brash move would lead Watson Coleman to utter,
“It’s insulting, ludicrous. Maybe they are emboldened by the fact that this governor has yet to sign the bills, but we need to be proactive in the state and protect our residents.”
With much of his focus on getting reelected and paving his next political move, it will take more rallies and calls to build up more steam where Christie will start to take more notice of where the majority of New Jerseyans stand on both issues and creating change in the Garden State. For now, Democrats in the State Legislature can but lament at Christie’s vetoes standing in the way of New Jersey legalizing same sex marriage and being a leader for the country in gun violence reform.