TRENTON – With marriage equality center stage as the new session begins, the Senate seems to be one vote short of 21.
Several sources spoke with State Street Wire today about the upper chamber prospects of S1, the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act, sponsored by state Sens. Raymond Lesniak, (D-20), Elizabeth; Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), Teaneck; and Sen. President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), West Deptford.
Sweeney has called his abstention on the bill in 2009 the biggest mistake of his political career. He has since changed his stance, as has state Sen. Jennifer Beck, (R-11), Red Bank, who is joining the bill as a co-sponsor.
In 2009, the bill only received 14 votes with Gov. Jon Corzine committed to passing the law. Now with Gov. Chris Christie in office, the bill’s advocates are projecting an air of confidence about the bill’s passage, although Christie’s support is anything but cemented.
According to several sources, the bill would receive at least 20 votes at this point, one vote short of passage. Some sources expressed optimism, though, that it may possibly receive as many as 24 or 25 votes.
Sweeney and Beck represent votes 15 and 16. State Sen. Jim Beach, (D-6), Voorhees, told State Street Wire today that he is changing his abstention into an affirmative, so that would be vote number 17.
“Sometimes you make a mistake,” Beach said, “and if you have a chance to correct that mistake you’re a fortunate person.”
Several sources added to that list state Sens. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), Wood-Ridge, and Diane Allen, (R-7), Edgewater Park, neither of whom cast a vote in 2009; and state Sen. Nellie Pou, (D-35), North Haledon, who has replaced former state Sen. John Girgenti, an opponent of the bill.
Sarlo would not confirm his vote, but said, “I’m evolving. The supporters of the bill know where I am at.”
Allen and Pou did not immediately answer calls for comment today, but if the sources are correct, they and Sarlo would represent votes 18, 19, and 20.
Sources said likely candidates to provide the 21st vote are state Sens. Fred Madden, (D-4), Washington Township, and Shirley Turner, (D-15), Lawrenceville. Neither Turner nor Madden were available to speak about the issue today.
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