(Adds proponent’s comments in fourth paragraph.)
Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie has 45 days to fulfill his promise to veto a bill passed by the Democratic-led Legislature that would legalize gay marriage.
The legislation was delivered to Christie’s office this morning after it passed the Assembly yesterday and the Senate on Feb. 13. New Jersey Democrats have made legalizing same-sex marriage a priority, two years after they failed to pass a similar bill supported by then-Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat.
Christie, 49, has said he believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that voters should decide the issue. Steven Goldstein, chairman of gay-rights group Garden State Equality, said he thinks Christie isn’t homophobic, and that his opposition comes from national political ambitions and appeasing the socially conservative wing of his party.
“I don’t think Chris Christie has an anti-gay bone in his body,” Goldstein said today in a statement. “He won’t veto the bill because he’s anti-gay. He’ll veto the bill because the 2016 South Carolina Republican Presidential primary electorate is anti-gay.”
Christie in October spurned Republican calls to run for president this year, and endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. He has declined to rule out becoming Romney’s vice presidential running mate, or seeking the White House in 2016.
Democrats control the New Jersey Assembly, 48-32, and the Senate, 24-16. The bill needed 41 votes to pass the Assembly and 21 yeses to pass the Senate. It was approved 42-33 in the Assembly and 24-16 in the Senate.
“This is a great day for equality and I just hope the governor pays attention to what happened here,” said Reed Gusciora, an Assembly Democrat from Trenton who’s gay. “He’d do a great service for equality by signing the bill into law or by simply walking away and letting it become law without his signature.”
Sponsors said they’ll work to gather the two-thirds majority in each chamber needed to override a veto. They would need 27 supporters in the Senate and 54 in the Assembly.
“They are going to be nowhere near the votes to override in either chamber,” Christie said Feb. 14 in his Trenton office.
“Believe me, I will take very swift action on the bill,” he said. “And we can move on to the things the people of New Jersey say are most important to them, which are creating jobs, lowering taxes and continuing the New Jersey comeback.”
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, declined to say when the governor will strike down the bill.
Lawmakers seeking an override have almost two years, the time remaining in the legislative session, to act. Goldstein, the pro-gay marriage activist, said his group will use that time to build support and press ahead with a legal challenge of the state’s civil-union statute.
Supporters of gay and lesbian marriage contend the civil- union law fails to guarantee those couples equal protection. Democrats and advocates say that marriage is a civil right and putting it to a vote in a referendum, as Christie wants, would be improper.
Voters nationwide have rejected gay marriage in all 31 referendums on the issue. New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a West Deptford Democrat, said this week “there’s not a chance in hell” he’d bring a referendum bill to a vote.
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed a bill this week to make her state the seventh to grant same-sex couples the right to marry. New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia already permit same-sex weddings.
Maryland’s House of Delegates, which last year stood in the way of gay marriage legislation, may soon vote on a similar measure.
--With assistance from Stacie Servetah in Trenton. Editors: Stacie Servetah, Stephen Merelman
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