Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) says he regrets his vote against legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey when it came up for a vote in the State Senate in 2010.
“I was wrong in my vote when the gay marriage vote came up,” Kean said. “I have changed my mind and better understood that that was the wrong vote at the time.”
Kean’s decision to discuss his own evolving views comes one week before Republican primary voters will decide if they want him to be their nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives in the hugely competitive 7th district race.
The move also makes it harder for his general election opponent, freshman Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes), to make Kean’s vote an issue without coming across as unforgiving of a politician’s ability to allow their positions to evolve over time.
“We all mature and change opinions. That’s not unnatural,” said former Gov. Richard J. Codey, an early supporter of gay marriage.
Garden State Equality, which led the fight to pass marriage equality, endorsed five of the senators who opposed the measure in the 2017 election, but not Kean.
“I support gay marriage and have been doing everything I can to support the LGBTQ community going forward,” said Kean. “That’s an important conversation I think that many people have to have with their neighbors and across their communities and across this country.”
Daniel Fleiss, Malinowski’s campaign manager, said “it’ll take much more than a years-late apology to convince anyone that Tom Kean stands with them.
“It only took twenty years opposing it in Trenton and a competitive congressional campaign for Tom Kean to finally come around on LGBTQ rights–an issue Tom Malinowski has been fighting for his entire career,” Fleiss said. “Even today, Kean’s official website compares marriage equality to self-service gas as issues voters should decide.”
Kean made his comments during an online campaign event with Roselle Park Councilman Joseph DeIorio and his husband, former Roselle Park Councilman Thos Shipley.
In 2015, DeIorio and Shipley became the first married gay couple to serve together in public office.
Codey, then the Senate President, called for a vote on legislation to make same-sex marriage legal on January 7, 2010, just a week before Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) was set to become Senate President and two weeks before Republican Chris Christie, a gay marriage opponent, would take office as governor.
Gov. Jon Corzine, who lost his re-election bid to Christie, had said he would sign the measure if the legislature approved it during their lame-duck session.
The bill failed, 20-14, with six Democrats voting no and three, including Sweeney, abstaining. Only one Republican voted yes.
Codey predicted that future senators would look back on the gay marriage vote with wonder, asking, “What were they thinking? What were they afraid of?”
This story was updated at 12:35 PM to include comment from the Malinowski campaign.