Gay-Rights Groups Kick Off N.J. Same-Sex Marriage Effort

Gay-rights advocates began an effort to persuade New Jersey’s Republican lawmakers to join Democrats seeking to overturn Governor Chris Christie’s veto of a measure to legalize same-sex marriage.

The groups have had success in New York, Maryland, Rhode Island and Maine. They are turning to New Jersey, where Christie, a 50-year-old Republican, rejected a gay-marriage bill passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature last year.

National organizations joining the New Jersey campaign include American Unity Fund, a group founded by billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, who donated at least $6,800 to Christie’s 2009 campaign for governor. The group “is the voice of Republican voters who are committed to equal rights and full relationship recognition for gay and lesbian Americans,” according to a press release.

“We’re here because we believe that it’s not government’s proper role to interfere with someone’s happiness,” said Jeff Cook-McCormac, a senior adviser to American Unity. “Government must not limit our freedoms, including our freedom to marry the person we love.”

Funding Campaign

Other national groups include Gill Action Fund, founded in 2005 by Colorado software entrepreneur Tim Gill; the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign; New York-based Lambda Legal and Freedom to Marry, a New York-based group that said this month it is investing $500,000 in state marriage campaigns.

Advocates are emboldened by two rulings last month by the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down a federal law that denied benefits to same-sex married couples and cleared the way for weddings to resume in California.

The decision pointed to shortfalls at the state level, Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, a Montclair-based civil-rights group, said in an interview. The groups are seeking an override by January.

“Civil unions aren’t working,” he said. A married same-sex couple boarding a train in Maine and bound for Washington, D.C. is recognized throughout the Northeast “until you get to the Lincoln Tunnel” on the New Jersey side, he said.

Asbury Park

The organizations kicked off their campaign on the boardwalk outside Asbury Park’s convention hall in front of about 100 supporters, some holding signs reading “Standing Up For Families.” President Barack Obama appeared there in May, alongside Christie to see rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy struck Oct. 29.

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 made them a separate class whose rights aren’t fully understood or recognized.

Christie, who is seeking a second term in November and is a potential 2016 White House candidate, has said marriage should be between a man and a woman. He has said he’d support putting the subject before voters and blamed politics for keeping such a measure off the ballot. Democratic leaders have said the matter involves a civil right that shouldn’t be subject to a popular vote.

There will be no referendum question, Stevenson said today.

An override of Christie’s veto would require 27 votes in the Senate, where Democrats rule 24-16, and 54 in the Assembly, where they dominate 48-32.

Penny Gnesin, 52, and Sue Fulton, 53, the first same-sex couple married in the cadet chapel at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, said their 17-year relationship has weathered Gnesin’s diagnoses of multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.

In New Jersey, the Asbury Park couple’s union was defined in a commitment ceremony and a domestic-partnership declaration. Still, they want to marry in their home state.

“None of this makes this relationship equal” to what opposite-sex couples enjoy in New Jersey, Fulton said.

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