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NJ Legislature Picks New Chiefs,
Stalls on Gay Marriage

Associated Press
Tuesday Nov 24, 2009

The New Jersey Legislature kicked off the lame
duck session Monday with Democrats picking new leaders but both
houses failing to advance a gay marriage bill that will die with
the Republican governor-elect unless it’s signed before his Jan.
19 inauguration.

South Jersey Sen. Steve Sweeney beat out Sen. Dick Codey for the
Senate presidency, the chamber’s most powerful post. Sen. Barbara
Buono of Edison was selected majority leader.

Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver of East Orange will become the first
African-American woman to be Assembly speaker, succeeding Joe
Roberts, who is stepping down. Assemblyman Joe Cryan of Union was
chosen majority leader in the Assembly.

The changes voted on by majority Democrats will become official
when the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 12. Since Democrats hold
majorities in both houses, the leadership posts do not need
Republican support to pass.

The new legislative leaders will determine which bills get voted on
after Gov.-elect Chris Christie takes office.

On Monday, the Democratic leaders pledged to work cooperatively
with Christie whenever possible.

“There’s going to be agreement on a lot of issues,” like reducing
costs, Sweeney said. “Social issues, there’s going to be

Christie, a practicing Catholic, has said he would veto a gay
marriage bill. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine, a socially liberal
Democrat, has said he would sign such a bill.

A poll released last week showed that New Jerseyans narrowly
support gay marriage.

But enthusiasm for the bill has waned since Christie, a social
conservative, beat Corzine by 100,000 votes on Nov. 3. The election
was widely viewed as a referendum on high property taxes,
strangling state debt and continued unemployment, making some
lawmakers skittish about taking on a potentially divisive issue
like marriage equality.

Gay rights activists lobbied at the Statehouse on Monday, calling
on lawmakers to post the bill for a vote and threatening to
withhold support to Democrats who don’t back the measure.

At a protest outside the Statehouse, activists said civil unions –
currently allowed in New Jersey – do not offer the same protections
of marriage.

Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro, a couple with four children, said
not all prospective employers offer health insurance to couples
like themselves in civil unions. The insurance is critically
important, they said, because their children are handicapped.

After a private meeting among Democratic senators, bill co-sponsor
Sen. Loretta Weinberg insisted the gay marriage bill isn’t dead.
She said discussions would continue, tamping down persistent
chatter that the measure lacks support to pass.

Legislative leaders have said they won’t post the
bill for a vote unless it has at least 21 votes in the Senate and
41 in the Assembly.