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Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey’s Democratic-led Legislature passed a bill legalizing gay marriage and sent it to Governor Chris Christie, who has promised to veto the measure.
The Assembly’s approval, 42-33, was one vote more than needed to enact the legislation. The Senate adopted it on Feb. 13 by 24-16. Sponsors said they will work to gather the two- thirds majority in each chamber to override a veto. Seven states now allow same-sex couples to wed.
Democrats in New Jersey 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, a first-term Republican, has said he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, and wants voters to decide the issue in a referendum.
“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 is one of two openly gay lawmakers. “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.”
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, declined to say when the governor will strike down the bill.
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed a bill this week making 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, is set to vote on a similar measure as soon as this week.
Voters nationwide have rejected gay marriage in all 31 referendums on the issue. Democrats in New Jersey say marriage is a civil right that shouldn’t be subject to a popular vote. 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.
Democrats control the Senate, 24-16, and the Assembly, 48-32. Four Democrats opposed the bill today and two voted against it last week in the upper chamber. For an override, they would need a two-thirds majority, or 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.”
Lawmakers seeking an override have almost two years, the time remaining in the legislative session, to act. Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay-rights organization that lobbied for the measure, said his group will use that time to build support and press ahead with a legal challenge of the civil-union statute.
Supporters of gay and lesbian marriage contend the state’s civil-union law fails to guarantee those couples equal protection. Democrats and advocates contend that putting such protections to a vote, as Christie wants, would be improper.
“Instead of a governor who was twisting arms on our behalf, we have a governor who twisted arms against us,” Goldstein said, contrasting Christie to Corzine, who supported the move. “With this victory, the courts will see the Leislature’s clear intent to replace the state’s failed civil- union law with marriage equality.”
Assemblyman Jay Webber, a Republican who represents Whippany, was among those who opposed the measure in a vote that largely followed party lines.
“Gay and lesbian New Jerseyans have every right to live as they wish in this state,” Webber said during more than two hours of debate in the Assembly. “They should enjoy every right that is granted to them under the law. But I do not believe gay and lesbian couples have the right to make their desires able to override or redefine the institution of marriage for everyone else.”
--Editors: Pete Young, Mark Tannenbaum
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