Timing is everything in politics. In a race against the clock two years ago, with a lame-duck governor who happily would have signed the bill, the New Jersey Senate fell well short of approving same-sex marriage. Today, with a governor who will veto the bill, a similar bill passed the Senate easily, and approval also is expected in the Assembly.
Chris Christie, who in most ways I consider an outstanding governor, lost my vote in the 2009 election solely on the basis of his promise to support a constitutional amendment to prohibit marriage equality. Neither house of the state legislator has the votes now to override the expected veto — but that could change, and the legislature has nearly two years to override. In the two years between Senate votes, the tally shifted from 20-14 against to 24-16 in favor.
Votes are going to shift only in one direction. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, abstained in the vote two years ago — effectively voting no, as any bill needs an absolute majority of 21 to pass. This time he led the fight for the bill. Whenever a politician changes sides on an issue, he or she has to be prepared to explain the “flip-flop.” Here’s Sweeney’s explanation, from before today’s vote:
It was a political calculation [the first time] … you know, I didn’t want to be part of a bill that was gonna fail. And it was the wrong position to take. Because this is about civil rights, and you can’t take a pass on civil rights.
… There’s a whole lot that’s taken place since [the last vote]. Which is people like myself recognizing that this isn’t a political issue, it’s a civil rights issue, and when you talk about, well, put it on the ballot — you know, the majority will always deny the minority, in almost every example, of giving what they already have. So no, we’re not doing that. As a legislative body it’s our responsibility to do the right thing.
Here’s a thought experiment: Try to imagine a politician explaining a vote change in the opposite direction. Ain’t gonna happen.
Also today, the governor of Washington signed a bill making that state the seventh to allow same-sex couples to wed. The Census Bureau says that in 2010 there were more than 130,000 legally married same-sex couples in the U.S., and despite the fantasies of opponents, no legislature is ever going to issue wholesale annulments. As the number inexorably rises, same-sex marriage will follow the same arc as interracial marriage, moving from scandalous to novel to unremarkable. There’s no going back.