Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Governor Chris Christie fulfilled his pledge to veto a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in New Jersey, setting up an override fight between the Republican and Democrats who control the Legislature.
The move by Christie, 49, came shortly before lawmakers in Maryland approved a similar measure, with the support of Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. Backers of the New Jersey bill said they’ll work to pass it over the veto by Christie.
“For someone who has national aspirations in the Republican party right now, I think there’s not much choice but to take this position,” Ken Sherrill, who teaches politics at Hunter College in New York, said yesterday by telephone.
Christie has said he believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman and that the issue should be decided by a statewide ballot measure. Voters in states around the nation have rejected gay marriage in all 31 referendums dealing with the question. Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, on Feb. 13 made that state the seventh to let same-sex couples wed, joining New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia.
A bill to permit same-sex marriage passed Maryland’s House of Delegates 71-67 yesterday, moving the issue to the Senate, which approved a similar measure last year.
Christie Seeks Changes
In rejecting the legislation in Trenton yesterday, Christie invoked a “conditional veto,” which lets him return the measure to lawmakers asking for changes. He suggested creating an ombudsman to tighten enforcement of the civil-union law that pertains to same-sex couples and renewed his referendum push.
“I am adhering to what I’ve said since this bill was first introduced -- an issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide,” Christie said in a statement.
Garden State Democrats have countered that marriage is a civil right and shouldn’t be subjected to a popular vote. They’ve made the issue a priority, two years after failing to pass a similar bill supported by then-Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat. Christie’s move was condemned by advocacy groups including Freedom to Marry.
“Whenever you put equal rights for minorities on the ballot, minorities lose -- everyone knows that and Christie’s not an idiot,” said Sherrill, a former New York elected official who is married to another man. “‘Let the people vote’ has been a chant from the opponents of marriage equality going back to the Massachusetts days.”
Sponsors of the rejected bill have almost two years before the legislative session ends to assemble the two-thirds majority needed to overcome Christie’s veto. Supporters need 27 votes in the Senate, where Democrats have a 24-16 margin, and 54 in the Assembly, where the party holds a 48-32 edge. The measure passed 42-33 in the Assembly Feb. 16 and 24-16 in the Senate Feb. 13.
“We will override this veto,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a West Deptford Democrat, said in a statement. He said on Feb. 13 that “there’s not a chance in hell” he’d bring a bill authorizing a ballot measure to a vote in his chamber.
“This is about nothing but feeding into peoples’ prejudices against gays and lesbians,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a gay Democrat representing Trenton who sponsored the measure. “This is not going to destroy anybody’s marriage. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay-rights group that supported the measure, said he believes Christie’s opposition comes from national political ambitions and seeking to appease the socially conservative wing of his party. He called the veto a “brutally anti-gay act.”
“I don’t think Chris Christie has an anti-gay bone in his body,” Goldstein said. Christie vetoed the bill “because the 2016 South Carolina Republican presidential primary electorate is anti-gay.”
Christie, speaking to reporters on Feb. 14, said he didn’t believe Democrats could muster the votes for an override. He has said he would abide by the results of a referendum, and that he believes such a question probably would pass in New Jersey, where polls show a majority of voters support same-sex marriage.
The New Jersey Family Policy Council, which has opposed the practice, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the veto.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at email@example.com