Even though it’s still early days, 2022 has already been an eventful year for equality and LGBTQ rights in New Jersey.
Gay marriage codified
Gay marriage arrived in New Jersey when a 2015 Supreme Court case legalized same-sex unions in the states (including NJ) without gay marriage. But with a radically conservative US Supreme Court poised to reconsider that 2015 decision, NJ state lawmakers were keen to codify gay marriage into state law.
NJ’s acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck explained on Twitter why the new law matters.
“Nine years ago, my husband and I got married in upstate New York, in part because our marriage was (still) illegal in my home state of New Jersey” Mr. Bruck explained. “Today, @GovMurphy signed bipartisan legislation codifying marriage equality in the Garden State. We’ve come a long way in a short time. At long last, we can rest assured that marriage equality in NJ won’t be swept away by a change in the composition of our courts. But let’s never forget the LGBTQ+ advocates (and their allies) who fought a long, lonely battle to turn an impossibility into an inevitability.”
The final headcount was decisive, especially in the NJ Senate where the gay marriage bill passed 35 votes to 4. That tally included “yes” vote from most of the GOP caucus, an unimaginable tally back in day when only 2 GOP senators (Senators Diane Allen, Jen Beck) pressed the YES button.
This time, YES votes came from across the GOP spectrum: conservative icon Sen. Joe Pennacchio, Sen. Mike Testa Jr (Donald Trump’s NJ chairman), and Sen. Tom Kean Jr, who’s leaving Trenton to run for Congress, all voted yes.
(Side note: In a competitive district that just might determine which party controls Congress, Kean hopes voters forget his (multiple) votes against gay marriage and focus instead on on his (somewhat belated) evolution on the issue. I know several LGBTQ activists that aren’t gonna let happen.)
Call her Madame Chairwoman
Union County Commissioner Rebecca Williams, one of NJ’s highest-ranking LGBTQ elected officials, just got a promotion: she was chosen by her colleagues to be commissioner chair. Ms. Williams’ oath of office was administered by Nick Scutari, the brand new president of the NJ State Senate.
In her new leadership roll, Ms. Williams’ goals include better Internet connectivity for Union County residents and a renewed focus on mental health social service programs.
Previously, Ms. Williams, a democrat, served on town council in Plainfield where she twice ran off-the-line, snatching victory both times. Beyond her powerful defiance of those telling her “wait her turn,” Rebecca Williams ascent shows LGBTQ candidates who dream of higher office how it’s done.
Once forced to play gate-crasher, Ms. Williams is now firmly ensconced with a brand new gavel to prove it.
1 in 120
Newly-minted Assemblyman Don Guardian took the oath of office this week making him the only Gay member of NJ’s 120-member General Assembly. He’s the first gay republican state lawmaker in NJ history and only the 3rd overall, following in the footsteps of Reed Gusciora and Tim Eustace, both democrats.
Mr. Guardian arrived in Trenton after a decisive victory against the much vaunted South Jersey Democratic Machine, noted Micah Rasmussen who runs the Rebovich Institute for NJ Politics at Rider University.
“Despite being outspent by a massive four-to-one margin– $1.5 million in the face of more than $6 million– Don Guardian and his running mates ran a smarter and more effective campaign in which they ended up winning 15 of the 17 towns in LD2,” Mr. Rasmussen told InsiderNJ. “Their team approach capitalized on their respective strengths throughout the entire county, and by prevailing everywhere outside of Atlantic City and Pleasantville, they have established themselves as a formidable obstacle to any Democratic plans to claw back an Atlantic County legislative seat any time soon.”
Dean Dafis is the new mayor of Maplewood, NJ, population 25k, in Essex County. Previously councilman and deputy mayor, Mayor Dafis take the reigns at a critical time as the battle against COVID enters year #3.
I’m almost 50 and I remember the days when gay role models were hard impossible to come by, especially in the world of politics. Having leaders like Dean Dafis allows LGBTQ kids to dream bigger and envision themselves as leaders, too.
“Visibility still matters,” Mr. Dafis told InsiderNJ. “It ensures that in a representative democracy all persons, their lived experiences and perspectives are represented while uplifting minority voices still struggling to be seen and heard.”
Substantively, NJ’s recently reconfigured Congressional maps swapped Maplewood from a safe democratic district (the 10th) into the very competitive 11th district, currently represented by Mikie Sherrill.
As Maplewood’s new mayor, Dean Dafis is well-positioned to deliver big numbers to keep that seat in democratic hands.
Jay Lassiter is an iconoclast, tech savvy street warrior for LGBT liberty and marijuana reform and an un-intimidated presence in Trenton’s halls of power as he aggressively pursues liberal causes. He’s always on Twitter @Jay_Lass.