The Republican Who Might Bring Gay Marriage to Jersey

Contrary to popular belief, New Jersey's same sex marriage equality legislation isn't dead yet.

When the bill cleared the state Senate Judiciary Committee last month, marriage equality supporters didn't see the votes in the full body and decided to move it in the state Assembly first to create some momentum.

But though they have the votes, the Assembly leadership wasn't going to play along. They insisted the Senate vote first (and have promised to move the bill on Monday if it clears the upper chamber). The Senate votes Thursday.

Currently, there are five Democratic Senators voting no. That means at least three Republicans are needed to pass.

Right now, there is only one -- which is still one more than the New York State Senate had.

Bill Baroni is a Central Jersey GOPer from a Democratic leaning district. But the guy is no Republican-In-Name-Only, nor the kind who has everyone wondering, 'Why doesn't he just switch parties already?' In fact, he's one of the brightest Republican stars on the state horizon. In terms of Jersey politics, think of him as the Republican Cory Booker (who, by the way, also supports marriage equality -- which tells you where this issue is headed).

Baroni doesn't just squeeze by his Democratic opponents -- he obliterates them, as he did in moving from the Assembly to the Senate in 2007 (a year sandwiched between two Democratic landslides). Baroni was a very early supporter of John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, and went on to be named chair of his New Jersey efforts. He's young and energetic and is a 'get' for any Republican thinking of running for public office throughout the state.

The man has been known to infuriate Democrats on occasion, as any good partisan should. But on marriage equality, he is good as gold. He was the first (voting before any of the Democrats) to vote 'yes' on the marriage equality bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has shown courage and a willingness to break with his party to stand on principle -- something few politicians of any stripe are willing to do these days.

Now, there was a rumor that the incoming governor, Chris Christie, put the word out that he wants a united Republican front on this one. It upsets their base and he doesn't want the distraction. (This was after Baroni's 'yes' vote in the Judiciary Committee.)

Five of Baroni's GOP colleagues released a letter last month saying they would rather "fix" civil unions and not vote for marriage equality. This is the group of senators who know in their hearts that marriage equality is the right thing to do but lack Baroni's steel spine. And what's worse, they leave their colleague -- who is the future of the New Jersey Republican Party -- out on a limb.

There is no 'fix' for the civil unions law. The five Republican Senators want to impose dearer fines on those who deny civil unionized couples their rights. But that's cold consolation to a loved one turned away at the door of the ER.... People just do not understand what a civil union is (same rights as marriage? marriage-lite? huh?) and separate can never be -- WILL NEVER BE equal.

Each of these five Republicans is a potential 'yes' vote. They are: Christopher "Kip" Bateman of Somerset County, Sean Kean and Jennifer Beck of Monmouth County, Andrew Ciesla of Ocean County and Tom Kean Jr. of Union County.

On the night of the Judiciary Committee vote, Kip Bateman spoke eloquently, passionately about why marriage equality is important. Then he shocked the hearing room by turning on a dime at the end and voting 'no.' You could tell where his heart was at. Others, like Kean and Beck, seemed swayed by the large (politically dormant) gay communities in their districts. They are on record as no.

It sometimes takes a person with an iron will to lead elected officials past a superficial political posture to do what they know is right and true. Into that role steps Senator Baroni, a steadfast member of their party. He is the person who is doing more than anyone to make equality for every New Jersey family a reality.

(If you're interested in marriage equality in New Jersey, get in touch with Garden State Equality on Facebook or their website.)