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Democrats: Gay marriage bill a priority

Democratic lawmakers serving in Trenton and Washington said at a news conference this afternoon that a bill allowing gay couples to get married in New Jersey will be a top priority in the months ahead.

At a Statehouse news conference, Democrats say a gay-marriage bill will be a priority in the new legislative session.

Though there are around 100 bills and dozens of nominations to be considered in today’s final meetings of the expiring legislative session, attention is already turning to what advocates call “marriage equality” — an idea the Legislature failed to pass in 2010, and one that Gov. Chris Christie has said he doesn’t support.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, didn’t cast a vote when the bill was posted in January 2010, at a time he was the Senate majority leader. Today he said he’s had a change of heart and that he had made a political calculation — “a terrible mistake last time.”

Christie has said he supports the state’s current civil-unions law but doesn’t support gay marriage. Sweeney said if the governor “would open his heart and mind he’d realize this is a civil rights issue.”

“I’m going to fight and fight and fight, and we’re going to get this done,” Sweeney said.

Democrats in New Jersey’s congressional delegation are urging their state-level counterparts to pass the bill, and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-Hopewell, attended the Statehouse news conference. Holt said the bill will pass “and New Jersey’s star will shine brightly.”

The bill was seven votes shy of the 21 needed to pass the Senate in 2010, losing by a 14-20 margin. In addition to Sweeney, Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck — whose redrawn district picked up Asbury Park, which has a sizable gay population — has indicated she now supports the idea. Another opponent, Sen. John Girgenti, retires tomorrow, replaced in the Senate by a supporter of the idea, Assm. Nellie Pou.

Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality says the idea has been gaining momentum, particularly after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed a gay-marriage bill through the legislature in Albany.

“I never saw a bill spin so fast. It’s like a dreidel on steroids,” he said.

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