With a vote of 8-4, the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, marking the first significant development in gay marriage rights since December 2006, when civil unions were enacted in the state.
In the debate before the vote, proponents of same-sex marriage relayed personal stories of discrimination and pointed out flaws in the current civil union law. (New Jersey’s civil union law is being challenged in state court by Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights advocacy group, which argues that civil unions in New Jersey don’t provide the same benefits and protections as marriage.)
Bill opponents argued that changes to the state’s marriage laws would diminish the meaning of marriage and quotes from the Bible condemning homosexuality and its supporters, NJ.com reports.
After the vote, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a first-term Republican, spoke out to say that he plans to veto the bill. He also challenged the State Legislature to instead put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide in the November election. A voter referendum on same-sex marriage is an “alternative path” to finally resolve the issue, Christie said. He then compared the gay marriage bill to a movie.
“We all know how this movie is going to end,” Christie, 49, told reporters after the Senate committee made its decision. “If they pass the bill, and they know this, it’s going to be vetoed. If they attempt to override that, the veto will be sustained. And they know that, so I’m trying to give them an alternate movie.”
If a statewide referendum on gay marriage were to occur, and the measure passed, New Jersey would become the first U.S. state where same-sex couples’ right to wed is approved by a public vote. Court rulings or legislation led to the gay marriage measures passing in the six states and the District of Columbia where it’s legal. Voters have rejected legalization in all 31 referendums on the issue, according to Freedom to Marry, a New York-based national advocacy organization.
Proponents of same-sex marriage are strongly urging Gov. Christie to rethink his veto plan. “Marriage equality isn’t like sports betting,” Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat, told the NYT, making reference to another amendment that was recently passed through a referendum. “It’s a civil right, which is already guaranteed in our Constitution. It’s up to the Legislature to guarantee these rights.” Lesniak sponsored the bill.
But if a vote on gay marriage happened today in New Jersey? It looks like it just might pass. Last week, a poll from Quinnipiac University (via the Wall Street Journal) found 52% support for gay marriage among New Jersey voters, the first time approval has edged over the 50% mark.