.- The New Jersey Catholic Conference lauded Gov. Chris Christie's veto of a bill recognizing “gay marriage” in the state, but observed that better marriage formation for local Catholics is still needed.
“The governor had always indicated that that would be his action. So we are appreciative. We support his position,” state conference executive director Patrick Brannigan told CNA on Feb. 21.
On Feb. 17 Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the measure, saying “an issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide.”
The Republican governor encouraged the legislature to seek New Jersey citizens' input and allow them to vote on “a question that represents a profoundly significant societal change.”
The New Jersey Assembly passed the legislation by a vote of 42 to 33 and the local Senate passed the bill 24-16. While legislators can override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both bodies, such a vote is believed to be unlikely.
“There are clearly not enough votes to override his video,” Brannigan said. “Everyone realizes that as long as Chris Christie is governor of the state of New Jersey that there’s not a chance that a bill passed by the legislature will be signed into law. So there’s a hiatus of two, maybe six years before that.”
He added that New Jersey’s Catholic dioceses will continue to work in marriage preparation and support for troubled families.
“Marriage is a sacrament for Catholic where we come together and work together to become one,” he said. “We’re just going to continue to teach the Church’s teaching on marriage and hopefully that will resonate throughout our diocese and throughout our state.”
In particular, marriage preparation “is so important, especially in our society, which is a secularized society that looks towards individuals,” he said. “In marriage, you have to look toward your spouse and your children, the family. That is counter-cultural today.”
Brannigan noted that the bishops' statements on the bill all referenced the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which he said indicates that “there should be no discrimination against people, that everyone is a child of God, that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God, and that everyone deserves respect and dignity.”
This is important to say, he said, because opponents of same-sex marriage are sometimes accused of bigotry.
“One of the supporters of same-sex marriage in the state assembly said that if you don’t support same-sex marriage you're a bigot and you’re discriminating. That’s not true,” Brannigan said.
“Same-sex unions are not the same as marriage between a man and a woman,” he stressed, adding that it is not discriminatory to define something that is different as being different.
Though society aims to encourage and help single-parent families, “for government to say that you do not need a father, or do not need a mother, is far different.”
While it is possible for New Jersey legislature to call a ballot referendum on the issue, the Democratic leadership of the State Senate and the State Assembly will not likely propose it.
Brannigan said he believes this is because it will fail if put to a vote.
“I believe firmly that if the bill is on the ballot it will be defeated. We will maintain marriage as a union of a man and a woman.”
Brannigan explained that the New Jersey Catholic Conference has never called for a referendum issue.
“What the bishops have been saying is that government does not have the right to define marriage or to redefine marriage. Marriage, from the beginning of time, is a natural institution which flows from natural law that precedes government and precedes law,” ha said.
“If we’re saying that government can’t redefine it, why would we say that you can put it up for the vote and let the general public redefine it?”
The executive director also countered same-sex marriage advocates who say New Jersey's civil union act – which allows legal benefits for same-sex couples – is broken. He said that in five years there have been only 13 complaints related to the act. Ten of these complaints came in the act's first year.
While advocates claim that there are problems for same-sex couples at hospitals, Brannigan says the New Jersey Department of Health has not received any complaints and same-sex marriage advocates do not make charges against any specific hospitals.
“The suggestion that hospitals are discriminating … doesn’t hold water in New Jersey. The strongest argument that people are putting forward for same-sex marriage has no substance to it.”