Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- The New Jersey Senate passed a bill that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, in the face of Republican Governor Chris Christie’s promise to veto it.
The Senate voted 24-16 in favor of the measure, sending it to the Assembly, which plans to consider it Feb. 16. Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, have made gay marriage a priority for 2012, two years after they failed to pass a similar bill supported by then-Governor Jon Corzine.
Christie, 49, opposes same-sex marriage and wants voters to decide the issue in a referendum. New Jersey is among at least six U.S. states dealing with the issue this year. Washington’s Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire plans to sign a measure today allowing gay couples to wed. Lawmakers in Maryland and Illinois are debating the unions as North Carolina and Minnesota have proposed initiatives to ban them.
Fifty-four percent of New Jersey voters support gay marriage and 35 percent oppose it, according to a Rutgers- Eagleton poll released today. The survey of 914 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. When lawmakers debated the issue in 2009, 46 percent of were in favor and 40 percent were opposed.
Voters nationwide have rejected same-sex marriage in all 31 referendums on the issue. Democrats in New Jersey have said the right of gay couples to marry is a civil freedom that shouldn’t be subject to a popular vote.
Corzine, a one-term Democrat, signed a measure in 2006 to allow civil unions after the state Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to extend marital rights to gay couples. The law is being challenged in state court by Lambda Legal, a national gay- rights advocacy group, which argues that it doesn’t provide the same benefits and protections as marriage.
Hospitals, insurance companies and out-of-state businesses often deny spousal rights to gay couples, supporters of the so- called marriage equality bill said.
Two years ago, a gay-marriage bill was defeated 20-14 in the Senate with three abstaining, including Senate President Stephen Sweeney. It needed 21 votes for approval. Sweeney later said he made a mistake in not voting.
Democrats control the Senate, 24-16, and the Assembly, 48-32, and would need a two-thirds majority, or 27 members in the Senate and 54 in the Assembly, to override vetoes.
--Editors: Stacie Servetah, Stephen Merelman
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