N.J. Democrats Seek Votes for Gay-Marriage Veto Override

Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey have started seeking Republicans who will support an override of Governor Chris Christie’s veto of same-sex marriage.

Lawmakers will hold off on scheduling a vote as they try to persuade Republicans “to vote their consciences,” Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat from Elizabeth, said today at the Statehouse. That vote could happen in the next two months, said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Teaneck Democrat.

“We have to work in upcoming weeks on those other legislators who may disagree with the governor,” Lesniak said. “We have to count heads. You’d like to believe you have a reasonable chance for success before you do anything.”

A bill to legalize gay marriage passed New Jersey’s Democratic-led legislature last year. Christie, a 50-year-old Republican, vetoed it, saying that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. He also said he would support putting the issue before voters. Democratic leaders in the state rejected that option of a referendum, saying civil-rights matters shouldn’t be left to popular opinion.

Slideshow: We the People: A Gay Marriage Mosaic

The gay-marriage bill passed 24-16 in the Senate and 42-33 in the Assembly. An override would require 27 votes in the Senate, where Democrats rule 24-16, and 54 in the Assembly, where they dominate 48-32.

Christie Weighs In

A divided U.S. Supreme Court (1000L) yesterday gave a landmark victory to the gay-rights movement, striking down a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex married couples and clearing the way for weddings to resume in California.

Christie, speaking yesterday on his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio program, said the rulings were misguided. The justices ignored the will of a Democratic president and a Republican-led Congress that enacted the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which denied benefits to married same-sex couples, Christie said. Former President Bill Clinton, who signed the law, later urged the court to overturn it.

New Jersey permits same-sex civil unions under a 2006 law. Seven gay couples sued in 2011, claiming in New Jersey Superior Court that the statute has made them a separate legal class whose rights aren’t fully understood or recognized.

In the wake of yesterday’s rulings, gay-rights groups plan to first focus on New Jersey and other states that have civil-unions laws -- Colorado, Hawaii and Illinois. Such laws fail to provide equal treatment under the decision’s parameters, said Udi Ofer, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights advocacy group that represents the New Jersey couples challenging civil unions, intends to file a motion next week that will seek summary judgment, or a ruling before trial, said Hayley Gorenberg, an attorney with the organization. Oral arguments have been scheduled for Aug. 15, she said.

“The whole legal landscape changed” with yesterday’s ruling, Gorenberg said. “That decision by the Supreme Court made it clear that New Jersey is not acting legally.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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