New Jersey Assembly Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill, Christie Veto Awaits
The New Jersey General Assembly followed in the footsteps of the State Senate today by passing a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, but it’s unlikely to withstand an expected veto by Governor Chris Christie:
The New Jersey Assembly on Thursday passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriages, setting the stage for an expected veto by Gov. Chris Christie.
The 41-33 vote sends the bill to Christie’s desk. The Republican governor who opposes gay marriage had promised “very swift action” if the bill passed both houses of the Legislature. The Senate approved the bill Monday.
Christie and most state Republican lawmakers want gay marriage put to a popular vote. Democrats say gay marriage is a civil right protected by the Constitution and not subject to referendum.
The affirmative vote in the Assembly ended weeks of speculation over whether Democrats who control the chamber would muster the 41 votes needed for the measure to pass.
The Senate passed the bill 24-16. In that chamber, two Republicans voted for the bill and two Democrats voted against it in what was otherwise a party-line vote.
The bill would need several Republican votes in each house to override the governor; Christie himself essentially guaranteed that that won’t happen.
With that in mind, Democrats who identified same-sex marriage as their No. 1 priority for the two-year legislative session that began in January have adopted a longer view. They say there’s no rush for an override vote, especially because the Legislature has been unsuccessful in every prior attempt to override Christie, most notably to reinstate a surcharge on millionaires.
Instead, they plan to bide their time in hopes that support for gay marriage – currently 52-42 percent in New Jersey, according to one recent voter poll – will continue to grow.
“Civil rights is incremental, civil rights is long range, and you take one achievement at a time,” said Steven Goldstein, head of the state’s largest gay rights group, Garden State Equality.
In case same-sex couples can’t win gay marriage through legislation, they have engaged in a parallel fight in the courts. Seven gay couples and several of their children have sued, claiming that the state’s civil union law doesn’t work as intended.
In order to override Christie’s veto, Democrats would need to find three more yes votes for the bill in the State Senate. In the Assembly, where at least six Democrats voted no on the bill, Democrats would need to find 13 votes willing to switch sides. While they have until the end of 2013 to take up the veto, it seems unlikely that they’d be able to do so and that Christie will move forward with the idea of a referendum on the issue. Given that this remains a close issue not only in New Jersey, but around the nation, I cannot say I’m surprised that Christie would veto the bill even though it’s slightly disappointing that even the Northeastern wing of the Republican Party hasn’t fully come around on this issue yet.
On the legal front, New Jersey’s bar on same-sex marriage may find itself in a similar position as California’s Proposition 8. One of the factors cited by the Ninth Circuit in its recent decision striking down that law was the fact that California, like New Jersey, already permitted civil unions for gays and lesbians and already granted a number of marriage-like rights to them. The only thing the law barred was the right to be married, which carries with it both benefits not granted by state law and a social status. The Court ruled that there was no rational basis to exclude gays and lesbians from the status of “married” given that the law already granted them a number of marriage-like rights. I would expect the litigants in New Jersey to make similar arguments.