TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A new executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has taken up a new push to legalize gay marriage.
The push has come a year after Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill allowing gay couples to marry and weeks after Democratic leaders in the legislature agreed to work to override the veto.
“The ACLU of New Jersey is going to do everything in its power to make marriage equality a reality,” said Udi Ofer, the group’s executive director. “It’s unacceptable that we have one person stopping same-sex marriage from becoming a reality in New Jersey.”
Civil unions, which Christie favors, are legal in New Jersey. The governor has urged legislators to put the issue on the ballot in November, and Democrats for the first time signaled last month that they’d be willing to do so.
The renewed vigor on allowing gay marriage is due in large part to Ofer, who took over six weeks ago.
Ofer, a lawyer by training, worked at the New York Civil Liberties Union when it was trying to legalize gay marriage there. It became legal in New York in July 2011.
A native of Israel who grew up in Brooklyn, Ofer founded the NYCLU’s advocacy department and led policy efforts to change the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy. After a lawsuit by the NYCLU, a federal judge ruled in January that part of the policy is unconstitutional after a NYCLU lawsuit.
Ofer said the group plans to mobilize supporters in swing districts statewide and lobby lawmakers they believe may vote to overturn the veto. They also plan to have town hall meetings, news conferences and rallies on the issue.
Garden State Equality, the state’s largest gay rights organization, announced this month that it is assembling a coalition of groups to push for gay marriage. The groups include the ACLU, The Human Rights Campaign and the Communications Workers of America.
Ofer spoke about the campaign days after the U.S. Supreme Court heard two same-sex marriage cases. One challenges the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents married gay couples from receiving federal marriage benefits, while the other challenges California’s Proposition 8, which took existing marriage rights away from gay couples in 2008.
The push for same-sex marriage here is doubly important in light of the challenges, Ofer said. If the Defense of Marriage Act is overturned and legally married gay couples can access federal benefits, couples who have a civil union in New Jersey would not be able to access those benefits because the federal government does not recognize civil unions.
“It is unacceptable that nine states and the District of Columbia already recognize same-sex marriage and New Jersey is not on that list,” he said.
Besides New York, other states that have legalized gay marriage are Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington.
Ofer wants to work on overturning Christie’s veto because the momentum is on the side of gay marriage proponents, he said.
Maine, Maryland and Washington approved gay marriage in ballot referendums last year.
Ofer said the organization is also working to make sure the state is allocating Superstorm Sandy recovery money in a transparent way. The state, he said, is spending a disproportionate amount of money on homeowners over renters and didn’t allow enough public comment time between announcing it was giving out $1.8 billion in federal money and actually doing so.
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