The New Jersey Assembly passed the marriage equality bill.

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Thursday, February 16th, 2012 – The New Jersey Assembly passed the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act on Thursday afternoon in a 42-33 vote. The historic passage, following Senate approval on Tuesday, February 13th, 2012, turns the spotlight to Governor Chris Christie. He said, he will veto the bill.

2/16/2012 - The New Jersey Assembly passed the marriage equality bill.

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“The existing civil union law sends the same message to the public that we heard from Jim Crow segregation laws – that same-sex couples and their families are not equal to married couples in the eyes of the law. This legislation would provide everyone in this state – everyone – with the same respect and protections under the law. It eliminates the second-class citizenship status that same-sex couples presently face while protecting freedom of religion. These principles are part of the bedrock of our constitution and should not be dismissed summarily” said, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a bill co-sponsor and the first African-American woman to lead her chamber.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said, “Marriage equality will happen in New Jersey. The only question that remains is whether Governor Christie will be on the right or wrong side of history.”

Following today’s historic vote, founder and President Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry released this statement:

“Today’s win in New Jersey is a historic victory for committed gay and lesbian couples in the Garden state, as well as to their families and couples across the nation. We have seen yet again that as people get to know their gay and lesbian friends, families and neighbors, heart and minds change. In New Jersey, we understand that same-sex couples need the critical safety-net of protections and meaning that only come with marriage, and civil union is no substitute. Marriage says family like no other word, and brings dignity and respect to the couples who participate in it.

Sadly, Governor Chris Christie has planted his feet on the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of the majority for marriage in New Jersey and nationwide,” he said. “If the governor sticks with his threat of a veto, Freedom to Marry will work throughout the entire remainder of the legislative session, supporting local families, leaders, and advocates as they make the case and win the extra handful of votes needed to override the veto and do right by these families.

We would not be here without the outstanding leadership of Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Oliver; and we congratulate our colleagues at Garden State Equality, who have worked tirelessly for years to bring us here. We look forward to seeing the first gay and lesbian couples marry in New Jersey.”

The current legislative session ends in January 2014, giving activists ample time to prepare and attempt a veto override.

Garden State Equality’s chairman, Steven Goldstein said, “We are exuberant advocates but also methodical strategists. To win an override, we will take the time we need, assisted by a changing world. Look how the world changed since the last vote two years ago. We have until the end of the legislative session, January 2014. The key is winning.”