Advocates, Legislature Reject Christie Referendum Call

BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Accusing the Democratic leaders of the New Jersey Legislature of treating “hundreds of years of societal and religious tradition” like “a political football,” Republican Governor Chris Christie is calling for a ballot measure this November on whether the state will legalize marriage by same-sex couples.

Speaking on January 24, the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a same-sex marriage bill on an 8-4 vote, Christie said he would veto the legislation.

“I made this opinion really clear when I was running for office in 2009,” he told reporters. “It’s clear to me that the Legislature knows this as well.”

Passing the marriage bill, he said, could only lead to “stalemate or deadlock.”

The November presidential election, Christie argued, would provide the largest turnout of voters to decide the matter, rather than just “121 people” –– the full membership of the Senate and Assembly plus the governor himself.

Later in the day, Senate President Steve Sweeney, asked by a reporter why the Legislature would pursue a bill that the governor has said he would veto, responded, “The point of going through a fight for civil rights? Are you kidding me? For standing up for people to give them the same rights? I’m offended by that.”

The Star-Ledger reported that Cory Booker, Newark’s African-American Democratic mayor, responded to Christie’s statement by saying, “I shudder to think what would have happened if the civil rights gains, heroically established by courageous lawmakers in the 1960s, were instead conveniently left up to popular votes in our 50 states.”

Since the late 1990s, the gay and lesbian community has lost dozens of statewide ballot questions regarding marriage equality, and leading advocates often speak out forcefully against the idea that the community’s basic rights should be put up to a popular vote in a nation where the protection of minority rights is enshrined in the Constitution.

Steven Goldstein, the chair of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s LGBT advocacy group, in a statement posted on the group’s website, said, “Our entire plan this go-round has included the assumption of a veto. We have a methodical plan: First pass the bill. Then endure the veto. Then work on an override vote.”

Several weeks ago, however, Goldstein, asked about the prospects for overriding a Christie veto, said, “We are realistic.” He added, however, that he hoped the governor would not stand in the way of Republicans supporting the marriage bill.

Democrats hold 24 of 40 seats in the Senate and 46 of the 76 Assembly seats currently occupied. Both margins fall short of the percentage needed to override a veto.

Goldstein noted that Lambda Legal, which won a 2006 State Supreme Court ruling that New Jersey must give same-sex couples all the rights of marriage, even if under a different name, is back in court arguing that the civil union law enacted in response does not meet that mandate.