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N.J. Assembly Democrats Still Need Votes to Pass Gay Marriage

Backers of a New Jersey bill to allow gay marriage say they are still trying to gather votes to pass it out of the Assembly even as they expect it to clear a committee today.

“There is no question” the Judiciary Committee will approve it, setting up a vote in the full chamber, Assemblyman John McKeon, a Democratic member of the panel and a bill sponsor, said in a telephone interview yesterday. Republican Governor Chris Christie has vowed to veto the measure.

Democrats have about 34 Assembly votes of the 41 needed to pass the measure and “are picking up more every minute,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat and a co-sponsor.

The bill needs 21 Senate votes to move to Christie’s desk. Senate Democrats have scheduled a Feb. 13 vote by the full chamber, Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Senate President Stephen Sweeney, said in an e-mail.

The governor, 49, said last week that he would urge Republican lawmakers to support a measure to put the issue before voters in a November referendum.

Court rulings or legislation led to the change in the six states and the District of Columbia where it’s already legal -- jurisdictions that include neighboring New York. Voters have rejected legalization in all 31 referendums on the issue, according to Freedom to Marry, a New York-based national advocacy organization.

Marching As One

Democrats said gay marriage is a civil right that shouldn’t be subject to a popular vote.

Republicans have “thus far walked in lockstep with his direction,” said McKeon, of West Orange.

“The governor needs to release members to vote their conscience,” Gusciora, who represents Trenton and is one of two openly gay New Jersey lawmakers, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Democrats, who control the Senate and Assembly, have made same-sex marriage a priority. Two years ago, they failed to pass a bill permitting the practice and supported by then-Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat.

Corzine enacted a measure in 2006 to allow civil unions, after the state’s high court ordered lawmakers to extend marital rights to same-sex couples. The law is being challenged in court by Lambda Legal, a national advocacy group that says unions don’t provide marriage’s benefits and protections.

McKeon said Democrats are proceeding, even though they know Christie will veto it.

“If a majority of the Legislature votes for it, that might in some way impact the Supreme Court when they look at this issue,” he said. “This is not a religious issue, it’s a matter of civil rights. It’s the right thing to do.”

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