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New Jersey Voters’ Support for Gay Marriage Reaches High

March 1 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey voters’ support for same-sex marriage reached a record high in the days after Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed legislation to legalize the unions, a Quinnipiac University poll shows.

Registered voters favor gay marriage 57 percent to 37 percent, according to the survey released today. They also approve, 67 percent to 28 percent, Christie’s proposal to put the matter on the November ballot, a plan rejected by leaders in the Democratic-led Legislature. Respondents split on whether Christie was right to veto the bill, 48 percent to 47 percent.

“What the poll shows you is that the state is really divided on this issue,” Christie told reporters in Trenton today. “Some folks are on different sides of the same issue.”

Seven U.S. states permit gay and lesbian partners the right to wed. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is set to sign a bill as soon as today that would make his state the eighth, alongside Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont, plus the District of Columbia.

The New Hampshire legislature is considering a repeal of that state’s two-year-old law.

Political Debate

New Jersey lawmakers approved a gay-marriage bill on Feb. 16. Christie vetoed it the next day, and suggested creating an ombudsman to tighten enforcement of the state’s civil-unions law. Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver have said they will work to assemble the two-thirds majority needed to overturn the veto.

“What’s left, for now anyway, is a political issue,” Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Connecticut, said in a statement.

Christie, 49, who’s midway in his first term, has said he believes marriage should be limited to one man and one woman. When he suggested that voters decide the issue and said he would abide by the results, Sweeney rejected the option, saying civil-rights matters shouldn’t be left to popular opinion.

Voters around the U.S. have rejected gay marriage in all 31 referendums involving the question.

Pollsters surveyed 1,396 registered voters by telephone from Feb. 21-27. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

The findings showed the highest support for gay marriage in New Jersey among the six Quinnipiac polls on the issue since November 2006. The latest previous poll, in January, found 52 percent in support and 42 percent opposed.

Civil Unions

Sentiment has shifted since the first poll in 2006, when 41 percent were in favor of legalizing gay marriage, with 50 percent against.

Then-Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat, signed the civil-unions bill in December 2006 that gave some rights to same-sex couples. Hospitals, insurance companies and out-of-state businesses don’t recognize civil unions and often deny spousal rights to gay couples, supporters of the marriage bill said.

A bill to allow gay nuptials failed in the Legislature in January 2010. Sweeney, who was among three senators who declined to cast votes at the time, has become one of the issue’s most visible advocates.

Given three options for gay and lesbian couples, 47 percent support marriage; 34 percent, civil union; and 13 percent, no legal recognition, the poll showed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elise Young in Trenton at eyoung30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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