Guardian sworn in
January 1st, 2014
Atlantic City has a new mayor, gay Republican Don Guardian. He has a tough job ahead of him. (PolitickerNJ)
This beleaguered gaming capital swore in a new mayor Wednesday amid the usual hoopla of “a new beginning,’’ then promptly had to turn its attention to the same old problem that has plagued it for years: revenue, and the fact the town does not see as much of it from casinos as it used to.
Minutes after Republican Don Guardian took the oath of office from Congressman Frank LoBiondo in a packed council chamber, the new council found itself forced to make decisions on lingering and sometimes contentious issues.
As Guardian took his seat, the council had to make difficult decisions on accelerated tax sales and approving a temporary budget to pay salaries and contracts in the near term all the while realizing that in the long term more unwelcome financial news looms depending on the fallout from the $50 million Borgata tax appeal case and eventual new tax valuations.
NJ marriage bill pulled
December 16th, 2013
Over the weekend I wrote about a bill that might have great political advantage for the Democratic Party in New Jersey (and the nation) but which could have negative consequences on gay people.
This bill has now been pulled. (NJ.com)
“After conferring with Lambda Legal, the national gay rights law organization, we have decided to pull from consideration for now the proposed legislation that would write marriage equality into law,” Weinberg said in a statement. “The issue is still new and legally complex, and we want to be able to fully understand all the potential legal ramifications of our efforts as we work to reach our goal of bringing marriage equality firmly and permanently into our laws.”
NJ Democrats seek marriage bill
December 14th, 2013
In October, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be allowed marriage on the same terms as heterosexual couples. Now New Jersey Democrats are seeking to pass legislation to change the laws on the books.
This is being presented as a protection should the Supreme Court decide to change its mind in the future, but it’s hard to see it as anything other than a political move having nothing to do with same-sex couples or marriage.
Republican Governor Christie somehow managed to come out of the marriage debate smelling like a rose. Although he had opposed – and vetoed – a marriage equality bill, when he opted not to appeal the decision, the public perception was that he was not extremist and many even believe that Christie “changed his mind” and supported equality.
This did not sit well with Democratic leaders in the state who, predicting Christie’s presidential aspirations, lost one of the points on which he could be portrayed as right-wing and out of the mainstream in a general election. They are gambling that a new bill could put cut Christie both ways: if he signs the bill, it would hurt him in the primary; and if he vetoes the bill, it fires up the base in opposition.
Unfortunately, and ironically, it is gay couples who could lose in the process.
I recognize the political reality that in some states it has been necessary to include religious protections in order to get legislation passed. I also recognize that the inclusion of such language implies that there is validity to the notion that somehow gay marriage imposes in some way on religious freedom. The best legislation is one in which same-sex couples simply are added to the framework without any histrionics or hand-wringing over ookie-spookie horrors that Teh Ghey might bring.
In New Jersey, the State Supreme Court decision did just that; it put marriage between same-sex couples on exactly equal ground with opposite sex couples. And any new bill, should it include religious protections, would enact limitations on same-sex marriage that are not currently present.
The executive director of Garden State Equality has opposed writing such a bill for exactly that reason.
In response, the legislators have changed the bill to reduce the protections granted. (NJ.com)
Lesniak said the new bill continues to have an exemption for religious organizations. But he said only church-affiliated groups that use an event space exclusively for their members would be able to turn away gay couples who wish to get married there. Clergy would not be required to perform gay marriages, but proponents say that exemption would be covered under the First Amendment anyway.
“It does not go as far as the bill that the governor vetoed,” Lesniak said.
“If you open up your facilities, you can’t discriminate.”
And therein lies the problem. A bill that did nothing more than change the language of the state law (as did California) to remove gender would possibly be an easy signature for Christie. It would merely codify existing law.
What this does, however, is define the exceptions to the law. By stating who is exempt, the bill implies who is not exempt.
As the law exists right now, there is no formalized conflict between gay rights and religious rights. While it’s likely that a religious fraternity like the Knights of Columbus could make a religious freedom case for refusing to rent their hall for a same-sex wedding, this is a matter of non-discrimination law, not marriage.
But by specifically excluding some entities – and telling the newspapers that this bill doesn’t protect the Knight of Columbus – this politicizes the marriage bill and announces a threat on the existing presumption of religious protection that the Knights have currently.
Of course, removing the Knights of Columbus protection from the previous bill – and announcing it – is designed specifically to invite a veto by the governor. I can’t imagine Christie signing the “Knights of Columbus must host gay marriages” bill. They’re trying to force his hand.
But it’s possible that Christie will not do as the Democrats in New Jersey plan. While he may not sign such a bill, he may consider a veto too difficult to explain.
And he has the option of ignoring the bill for 45 days at which time it becomes law without his signature.
Should he allow the bill to become law it is almost inevitable that someone will flounce down to the nearest Knights of Columbus to “I’ll show them” and demand to rent the hall. And then we will have one more item on the list of grievances that our opponents pull out to scream about how we are attacking them. Which will be true. And will suck.
But should they pass this bill, the Democrats may have more ammo to use against Christie should he run for President. At our expense.
November 26th, 2013
So this happened. A customer in a New Jersey restaurant stiffed waitress Dayna Morales of a tip on a $93.55 bill, and scrawled a note reading, “I am sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle.” Morales, who is lesbian and a Marine, posted a photo of the receipt on Facebook. She got lots of attention, and got lots of extra tips which she said she would donate to the Wounded Warriors Project, a worthy charity that provides services to wounded veterans.
Well, I guess I should say that this allegedly happened. The couple who supposedly stiffed Moralis has come forward with a copy of their receipt showing an $18 tip (that would be just under 20%, for those keeping tabs). They also provided a credit card statement indicating that the full $111.55 was charged to their account.
The couple told NBC 4 New York that they believed their receipt was used for a hoax. The wife says she is left-handed and could not have made the slash in the tip line, which she said looks to be drawn from the right.
“We’ve never not left a tip when someone gave good service, and we would never leave a note like that,” the wife said.
The husband said he and his wife have both worked in restaurants and believe in the value of tipping, and noted that he didn’t vote for Gov. Chris Christie because the governor doesn’t support gay marriage.
“Never would a message like that come from us,” he said.
…”I just felt like people have a right to know that — it’s fine if people want to donate to her or to the Wounded Warriors, but they’re doing it under a false pretense,” the wife said
Morales says the handwriting on the receipt is not hers and that she did not receive a tip. The restaurant says that it is launching an internal investigation.
NJ Assembly Republican Leader weighs in
October 21st, 2013
Dropped in at the end of an article (PolitickerNJ)
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) praised Christie’s decision. “This is why he’s so respected,” Bramnick said. “He’s a practical realist.”
Bramnick, it should be remembered, is not an equality supporter, taking the Governor’s “let the people vote” position.
It’s an interesting peek into how Republicans in deep blue states want to get the issue behind them. They know marriage equality is coming and that any protracted battle is not going to benefit them. They just need a way to graciously concede without changing their public stance.
A vote of the populace is ideal. It allows them to hold their “personal view” while upholding “the will of the people”. And it shields them entirely from the debate. Which is, to some extent, why Democratic politicians in New Jersey fought that option.
Absent that, a swift court decision gives them an out. The judges can have “overstepped” and “dictated”, but it gives Christie and the Republicans a way to be “practical realists” and accept the eventuality.
And today’s dropping of the appeal in New Jersey allows that state’s Republicans to put this issue completely behind them. There is zero chance that they will make any effort to “take it to the people” and within the next week or so, some GOP legislator is going to conduct a wedding of a close friend or staff member and then this issue will cease to be trouble for the party at all.
NOM has no love for Christie
October 21st, 2013
The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) today sharply criticized the courts of New Jersey for orchestrating the redefinition of marriage, and also criticized New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for withdrawing an appeal of the court ruling imposing same-sex marriage and thus abandoning the right of voters to determine the definition of marriage. NOM pledged to continue to fight for the right of New Jerseyans to define marriage, and suggested that Christie’s decision will end any chance of him winning the GOP nomination for president.
“…and thus abandoning the right of voters to determine the definition of marriage.” Huh?
I think NOM has now completely given up any pretense at making sense and is now just throwing up catch words and phrases in the hopes of stimulating emotions.
NJ’s largest synagogue on marriage
October 21st, 2013
In the seven blessings we bestow upon couples under the wedding canopy (Sheva B’rachot), there is one that will resonate particularly for us in the legal marriages we will be blessed to perform as of today, October 21st, 2013: “Praised are you, Adonai our God, for the creation of people.” Indeed, all people. We are so fortunate to now be able to bless those who stand under the wedding canopy without question of their sexual orientation. This is a milestone moment for our state and a milestone moment for us as God’s servants, who feel renewed in our privilege to serve all of God’s people.
Cory Booker Conducts First Wedding as Mayor, Handles Heckler With Aplomb
October 21st, 2013
Senator-elect Cory Booker is still mayor of Newark. Since becoming mayor in 2006, he has refused to conduct any weddings unless he can marry everyone equally. Now he can, and did, last night at Newark City Hall’s rotunda.
NJ Gov. Christie Drops Marriage Appeal
October 21st, 2013
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced this morning that he is dropping the same-sex marriage appeal to the state Supreme Court. The announcement recognizes that last Friday’s Supreme Court ruling denying his request to stay a lower court order requiring the state to begin granting marriage equality today is a strong indicator of how the Court will rule next year when it is scheduled to hear the full case:
Colin Reed, a spokesman for Christie, said that Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, writing for the court in a 7-0 opinion last Friday, “left no ambiguity about the unanimous court’s view on the ultimate decision in this matter when he wrote, ‘same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today.’ ”
But at the same time, Christie sharply criticized the court for stepping in and ruling on the case. The Republican governor, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, has maintained that he wanted voters to take up the issue on the ballot.
“Although the governor strongly disagrees with the court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law,” Reed said. “The governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”
Gov. Christie’s Hypothetical Gay Son Can Marry on Monday
October 18th, 2013
From the New Jersey Star-Ledger:
…And it’s a setback for Gov. Chris Christie, an opponent of same-sex marriage who says only “one man and one woman” should be able to wed.
At a campaign event at a restaurant in Dover, Christie ignored a reporter’s request for comment about the ruling.
Michael Drewniak, Christie’s spokesman, later issued a brief statement.
“The Supreme Court has made its determination,” Drewniak said. “While the Governor firmly believes that this determination should be made by all the people of the State of New Jersey, he has instructed the Department of Health to cooperate with all municipalities in effectuating the order of the Superior Court under the applicable law.”
Gov. Christie said earlier this week that if one of his four sons had come out to him as gay, he would “grab them and hug them and tell them I love them,” but he would also tell them “that Dad believes that marriage is between one man and one woman.” Beginning Monday, his hypothetical gay son will be allowed to marry just like his other brothers.
In related news, Princeton makes the fifth city (that I know of) to announce that they will accept license applications today from same-sex couples who want to get married on Monday. They early start on accepting applications is intended to accommodate New Jersey’s 72-hour waiting period. Princeton joins Asbury Park, Jersey City, Newark and Red Bank in accepting applications today.
New Jersey Supreme Court Refuses to Halt Marriage Equality
October 18th, 2013
Lambda Legal just tweeted moments ago:
— Lambda Legal (@LambdaLegal) October 18, 2013
Update: In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state must provide legal recognition for same-sex couples. The legislature decided on civil unions rather than full marriage, which was arguably equivalent at the time since the federal government would recognize neither thanks to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. But now it looks like that with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down DOMA3, the New Jersey high court now sees civil unions as inferior.
Updates: From the New Jersey Supreme Court decision refusing the stay of a lower court’s order that New Jersey begin providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples (PDF: 1MB/20 pages):
At the heart of this motion are certain core facts and principles. Lewis guaranteed same-sex couples equal rights under the State Constitution. After Windsor, a number of federal agencies extended marital benefits to same-sex couples who are lawfully married, but not to partners in civil unions. As a result, civil-union partners in New Jersey today do not receive the same benefits as married same-sex couples when it comes to family and medical leave, Medicare, tax and immigration matters, military and veterans’ affairs, and other areas. The State Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection is therefore not being met.
To evaluate an application for a stay, this Court in essence considers the soundness of the trial court’s ruling and the effect of a stay on the parties and the public. See Crowe v. De Gioia, 90 N.J. 126 (1982). Largely for the reasons stated in Judge Jacobson’s opinion dated October 10, 2013, we deny the State’s motion for a stay. The State has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today. The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative.
Because, among other reasons, the State has not shown a reasonable probability of success on the merits, the trial court’s order — directing State officials to permit same-sex couples, who are otherwise eligible, to enter into civil marriage starting on October 21, 2013 — remains in effect.
The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for the case in January, but based on Court’s 2006 ruling and the briefs submitted so far, it appears that the Court is unconvinced that the state’s case against marriage equality has a likelihood of prevailing, which is necessary in order to grant a stay:
The State presents three arguments to show that its appeal has a reasonable probability of success. First, the State claims that plaintiffs “will not be able to overcome the highest presumption of constitutional validity that attaches to statutory enactments.” Once again, Judge Jacobson did not strike down a statute. The Civil Union Act, while it may not see much use in the coming months, remains available for people who choose to use it. Even more important, though, the statute was presumptively valid “so long as” it provided full and equal rights and benefits to same-sex couples. Lewis, supra, 188 N.J. at 423. Based on recent events, the Civil Union Act no longer achieves that purpose.
Second, the State argues that plaintiffs’ “claims fail on federalism grounds.” Underlying part of this argument is the State’s interpretation of Windsor, which, as noted above, is at odds with the practice of the federal government. Although the State claims that the federal government must “defer to the states in matters concerning domestic relations,” federal agency rulings are following New Jersey’s rule about who may marry.
Third, the State claims that plaintiffs’ equal protection claim must fail because “the State’s action is not legally cognizable.” The State argues that it has followed Lewis and provided “same-sex couples with all State marriage benefits,” and that it cannot be responsible for “federal bureaucrats that … refused to extend federal benefits.”
Lewis is not limited in that way. The decision recognized that it could not alter federal law, Lewis, supra, 188 N.J. at 459 n.25, yet at the same time directed the State to provide same-sex couples “the full rights and benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples,” id. at 463 (emphasis added) Lewis left it to the Legislature to revise State law in a way that satisfied the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. Id. at 457-62. And the State acted in response. It enacted the Civil Union Act and created a structure that allows same-sex couples to enter into a civil union but not to marry. See N.J.S.A. 37:1-28 to -36. That structure today provides the framework for decisions by federal authorities. The State’s statutory scheme effectively denies committed same-sex partners in New Jersey the ability to receive federal benefits now afforded to married partners. The trial court therefore correctly found cognizable action by the State.
We conclude that the State has not shown a reasonable probability or likelihood of success on the merits.
In refusing the stay, the Court also had to weigh the balance of hardships on both parties in granting or denying the stay. The Court then listed several benefits that same-sex couples cannot access because they cannot marry: health benefits, claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act, Medicare, immigration, survivor benefits:
Lewis guarantees equal treatment under the law to same-sex couples. That constitutional guarantee is not being met. And the ongoing injury that plaintiffs face today cannot be repaired with an award of money damages at a later time. See Crowe, supra, 90 N.J. at 132-33 (“Harm is generally considered irreparable in equity if it cannot be redressed adequately by monetary damages.”); see also Laforest v. Former Clean Air Holding Co., 376 F.3d 48, 55 (2d Cir. 2003). Plaintiffs highlight a stark example to demonstrate the point: if a civil union partner passes away while a stay is in place, his or her surviving partner and any children will forever be denied federal marital protections.
Noting that there is a potential override of Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a marriage equality bill, the state had argued that the Court should wait and allow the democratic process “a chance to play out” rather than act now. The Court stomped on that argument:
The State argues that we should give the democratic process “a chance to play out” rather than act now. When courts face questions that have far-reaching social implications, see Lewis, supra, 188 N.J. at 461, there is a benefit to letting the political process and public discussion proceed first. Courts should also “avoid reaching constitutional questions unless required to do so.” Comm. to Recall Menendez, supra, 204 N.J. at 95-96 (citing Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, 306-07, 100 S. Ct. 2671, 2683, 65 L. Ed. 2d 784, 798 (1980); Randolph Town Ctr. v. Cnty. of Morris, 186 N.J. 78, 80 (2006)). But when a party presents a clear case of ongoing unequal treatment, and asks the court to vindicate constitutionally protected rights, a court may not sidestep its obligation to rule for an indefinite amount of time. Under those circumstances, courts do not have the option to defer.
New Jersey Towns To Begin Issuing Marriage Licenses Tomorrow
October 17th, 2013
When New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ordered the state to begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning October 21, she also ruled against a motion asking that she stay her ruling pending appeal. That led Gov. Chris Christie to ask the state Supreme Court to bypass the normal appeals process and take the case immediately. The high court agreed and will hear oral arguments on January 6 or 7, but it has yet to issue a stay on Jacobson’s ruling. That may happen sometime Friday. But unless that happens, Judge Jacobson’s order remains in effect and Garden Staters are now counting down the hours before they can marry on Monday.
Counting those hours is important because New Jersey requires a 72-hour waiting period after applying for a marriage license. So for those who want to marry on Monday, then Friday is the day to get the license. The marriage forms have been modified and are ready to go, but state’s department of health issued an order advising cities to hold off in accepting applications “until you hear from this office that we have the authority to do so.” But some cities have decided to go ahead and begin issuing licenses anyway:
Asbury Park administrator Terence Reidy said the city has fielded at least two dozen calls from couples asking whether it is issuing marriage license applications.
He said he’s told them yes.
“We’re doing it so that we’re ready,” Reidy said. “If something happens — the law changes — the city isn’t going to do anything in violation of any ruling or regulation. We’re being proactive so that when the 21st comes, any couple that wants to be married, they’re ready and we’re ready.”
Officials in Newark, Jersey City and Red Bank have said that they will also be issuing licenses on Friday.
NJ Judge: no stay in marriage ruling
October 10th, 2013
When Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that civil unions and marriages no longer are afforded the same rights and benefits (due to the new federal recognition of same-sex marriages) and that the state of New Jersey must allow and recognize marriages between same sex couples, she gave a date for when her ruling would come into effect: October 21, 2013.
When Governor Chris Christie appealed that ruling, he also requested that at stay be placed on the ruling such that it does not come into effect until the Supreme Court had weighed in on her decision. Today Judge Jacobson denied that request. (WaPo)
A judge refused Thursday to delay the start of same-sex marriage in New Jersey until a legal appeal can be settled, denying efforts by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration to put off gay weddings.
“Granting a stay would simply allow the state to continue to violate the equal protection rights of New Jersey same-sex couples, which can hardly be considered a public interest,” Judge Mary Jacobson wrote.
Christie will now appeal the denial of stay to a higher court. And that may be the decision that brings New Jersey into the Equality State column.
If the higher court overrides Jacobson and puts a stay on her ruling pending appeal, then we will all have to wait until the case runs its course. However, if they refuse to place a stay – as I suspect they may do – then it’s pretty much a done deal. Yes the official ruling will be delayed until the process is complete, but once marriage start they are not going to stop.
There is zero chance that the court will allow marriages to proceed without stay, only to later reverse Judge Jacobson’s decision.
Bad news for Lonegan
October 10th, 2013
Today brings some very bad news for former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, who is running as the Republican candidate for US Senate in New Jersey’s special election next week.
No, it’s not that he’s 12 points behind Newark Mayor Corey Booker (D). Actually Lonegan’s been whittling away at what was once a large advantage for Booker.
It’s not that New Jersey is a blue state in registration and state representative. After all Chris Christie is trampling all over his Democratic opponent.
No, today’s bad new is that the National Organization for Marriage is gloriously declaring that Lonegan can win. And they are throwing their support behind him. (NOMblog)
I’m talking about the US Senate special election in New Jersey next week. Marriage, life, and family values are on the ballot in New Jersey one week from yesterday on October 16th — and every marriage champion across the country can play a part to make sure those values come out on top.
Next Wednesday voters in New Jersey need to make a special effort to get out and vote for the only US Senate candidate who will protect and promote marriage, life, and family on the national stage — Steve Lonegan.
…All the polls show that momentum is with Lonegan, meaning by this time next week it could well be a dead heat.
What will push Steve — and marriage, life, and family — over the top?
Well, I suppose that something could. It’s possible, of course.
But we all know what happens when NOM gets behind your campaign.
New Jersey Superior Court: state must offer marriage to same-sex couples (updated)
September 27th, 2013
In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state must offer the same rights and obligations to same sex couples that it offered to opposite sex couples. However, they allowed the legislature to create civil unions rather than marriage. However, when the US Supreme Court ruled that DOMA3 was unconstitutional, this changed the situation. Currently, the State of New Jersey offers two forms of couple recognition; heterosexuals get a type recognized by the Federal Government, while gays get a type that does not have federal recognition.
Today Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled – in summary judgment – that New Jersey must offer marriage licenses to same sex couples. (NBC)
“The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts,” the judge said.
“Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution,” she wrote.
The ruling does not mean that same-sex marriages will begin immediately in New Jersey. The state has until Oct. 21 to either appeal or start the process to allow gay marriages.
Now it will fall upon Governor Chris Christie to decide whether to appeal the decision. While Christie has stated opposition to same-sex marriage (he favors civil unions), the voters in the state overwhelmingly support marriage equality.
At present, Christie’s position hasn’t hurt him and he holds a double-digit lead in polls for reelection. But this could go in several directions. If he appeals, it could serve as a reminder to the voters that he does not share their values. I doubt it would seriously hurt his chances for reelection, but it could hurt him in future contests.
Or, he could see this as an opportunity to do nothing and have a potentially troublesome issue go away. It seems increasingly likely that his marriage veto could be overturned with Republican support and Christie may prefer that his authority not appear to be challenged.
UPDATE: Christie has released a statement (Politico)
In a statement about an hour after the ruling, Christie’s press secretary said “Governor Christie has always maintained that he would abide by the will of the voters on the issue of marriage equality and called for it to be on the ballot this Election Day. Since the legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination.”
That sounds to me like he’ll be making an appeal.