Betty Lou DeCroce, Morris County’s and New Jersey’s newest legislator, was sworn in last Thursday and cast her first vote on a bill. Not just any bill, but the Democrats’ stated top priority of the session. The one that would legalize same sex marriage.
Her no vote was not surprising, given that every Republican in the lower house who cast a vote opposed it, the proclamation from the new minority leader that members could vote as they wished not withstanding.
But it’s a vote that could come back to haunt her in November.
Gov. Chris Christie did as promised and lost no time in issuing a conditional veto of the bill; the condition, that the question be put up for a vote, is one the Democrats say they will not accept. The Dems have vowed to use every minute of the 23 months they have left in this legislative session to override Christie’s veto.
Assemblyman John McKeon, one of the three Democrats now representing a portion of the county for the first time in almost 40 years, was among the few who were realistic, telling supporters of the bill, “If your day doesn’t come with this governor, I promise you, your day is coming.”
But backers of the bill and its major sponsors, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, and Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, were adamant that they would work through January 2014 to get enough votes for an override.
Given there are not enough Democratic votes in either house and nearly every Republican has refused to date to override virtually every Christie veto so far, that goal appears to be impossible today.
The Dems are not going to sway any of the current Assembly Republicans representing the Morris region. In fact, the only people who rose to speak against the bill on the floor of the Assembly represent a piece of Morris: Jay Webber, Nancy Munoz, Alison Littell McHose and Gary Chiusano.
Munoz, whose district includes Chatham, tried to get the measure amended. McHose argued for placing the question on the ballot, which is the GOP line. Chiusano said the state Supreme Court ruling that mandated New Jersey give gay couples the same rights as married people “does not require” the Legislature to legalize same sex marriages and he found “insulting” some comments by Democrats, particularly one that called opponents seeking to put the question up for a referendum “chicken.”
Webber, who represents the 26th with DeCroce, spoke the most directly to the issue, saying there is “no evidence” that the current practice of allowing gay couples to enter into civil unions has led to a “widespread trampling of civil rights,” this despite the testimony of numerous gay couples that it has. Legalizing same sex marriage would give couples no rights other than those they already have, Webber continued. The Legislature did what the Supreme Court required, and that is enough. Allowing gays to marry would mean “redefining an important institution in civil society and that should all give us great pause,” he said.
Despite the odds, if the Democrats are really serious about this, they have to increase their numbers.
They will have an opportunity to do so in Morris, as well as the 16th District, this year. That’s because while this is not a legislative election year, there will be elections to fill unexpired terms. Like DeCroce’s in District 26.
The odds are always against a Dem win in Morris, unless there is a perfect storm. Perhaps a presidential election year constitutes such a maelstrom?
Barak Obama lost the county by 20,000 votes four years ago—not bad for a Democrat. Now he's the incumbent with a 60 percent approval rating statewide, according to the latest Rutgers Eagleton poll. Compare that to Christie's rating of 47.
The president’s showing was slightly less impressive in the towns that now make up the 26th district. He got about 45 percent of the vote. On the other hand, the GOP legislative slate won roughly 2-to-1 last November, so Obama’s coattails would have to be very long.
The Dems would have to recruit a strong candidate and be willing to spend big, meaning the party would have to provide more support to the Morris Dems than it has ever before.
If they could also win the 16th District Assembly seat that will be on the ballot and keep the 4th District seat they will fill shortly, and convince the four Democrats who did not vote for the bill and one who was absent to do so, and get the votes of two Republicans who were absent Thursday who were expected to support the measure, they would be a lot closer to an override.
Still, they would need four more GOP votes in the Assembly. In the Senate, if leaders can strong arm their two Democratic no votes into changing their minds, they would need one more Republican.
So enactment of same sex marriage remains a long shot, though one the Democrats may indeed try to pursue, which could make for an interesting election season.
Note: This post is shared across several Patch sites serving communities in Morris, Somerset and Sussex counties. Comments below may be by readers of any of those sites.