After over 8 hours of testimony and a brief debate, the NJ Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage bill (S1967) on a 7 to 6 vote.  The expectation is that the bill will be debated by the full Senate as early as Thursday.

Responses will be posted after the fold.

Here is the breakdown of the vote.  The annotations are courtesy of Blue Jersey:

NO – Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen): Chairman, opponent of marriage equality. Doesn’t have a law degree.

NO – John Girgenti (D-Passaic): Vice Chairman

YES - Nia Gill (D-Essex): Black Senator from Montclair, a diverse college town with a large gay population. Strong supporter of marriage equality

YES - Ray Lesniak (D-Union): Sharp, articulate lawmaker who led the fight to abolish the death penalty in New Jersey. Strong supporter of marriage equality.

YES - Nick Scutari (D-Union): a supporter of marriage equality.

YES - Bob Smith (D-Middlesex): a supporter of marriage equality. Smith represents a liberal district in Central NJ which includes New Brunswick and Piscataway.

YES - Brian Stack (D-Hudson): a supporter of marriage equality. Stack is also mayor of Union City, and an powerful Hudson County political boss.

YES - Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen): the sponsor of the bill and a progressive stalwart in the legislature.

YES - Bill Baroni (R-Mercer): very smart, well-liked Republican, and a supporter of marriage equality

NO - Christopher Bateman (R-Somerset)

NO - Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth): a wild card, and an up-and-comer in the Republican party.

NO - Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen): probably the most outspoken opponent on the committee. A dentist by trade; has no law degree.

NO - Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth): former R party chair, probably an opponent.Blue Jersey has posted a quote from New Jersey Governor Corzine

I commend the Senate Judiciary Committee for allowing a thorough, open discussion on the proposed marriage equality law and approving the bill for action by the full Senate. This is an action that is long overdue. For far too long, a large segment of our population has been denied the fundamental rights and protections of a civil liberty that is granted to all Americans.

“Throughout the history of our nation, New Jerseyans have been among the first to champion the fundamental rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – from the fight for independence to the civil rights movement. By moving forward with marriage equality, today we have taken a significant step toward adding yet another chapter.

“I am confident that through this process, the marriage equality issue will be recognized for what it truly is – a civil rights issue that must be approved to assure that every citizen is treated equally under the law.

Blue Jersey also quotes Sen. Lesniak, a staunch supporter

A recent poll conducted by the Eagleton Institute of Politics determined that only 2% of New Jersey residents believe gay marriage is an important issue.  But to those gay couples in a loving and committed civil union, it is an extremely important issue.  It means they will be able to visit their loved ones in a hospital or make arrangements for their funerals without painful rejection, without questioning and delays caused by doubting Thomases unfamiliar with the meaning of civil unions.

“It means they will get the health and pension benefits they are entitled to without having to hire a lawyer to convince their employers that civil unions convey the same rights and obligations as marriage.  It means they will be treated as human beings should be treated: with love, compassion, understanding and acceptance.

“It is not often we have an opportunity to change society and how we treat each other as human beings.  It occurs a few times in our lifetimes, if it occurs at all.  We have that opportunity today.  We can change fear to love, hate to compassion, cruelty to kindness.

Steven Goldstein and others, courtesy NJ.com

“The marriage equality movement in America starts again here, right here,” Steven Goldstein, chair of the gay rights advocacy group Garden State Equality, said after the vote. …

“A lot of the advocates feel that they’re close and getting closer [to having enough Senate votes to pass],” said Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex). “It’s certainly going to be a fairly close vote.”