Chris Christie has made it very clear where he stands about gay marriage: He is opposed to it (“not a fan“) and has said that he will veto any bill legalizing same-sex marriage that comes to his desk. Christie may soon get the chance to do what he says: On Tuesday at a town hall style meeting in suburban Bridgewater, Christie told New Jersey’s state legislature that he will put the measure up to ballot as a constitutional amendment for Jerseyans to vote on.
“The fact is, we’re discussing huge change, and I believe we need to approach this not only in a thoughtful way, not in a rushed way, but also in a way where we’re able to get the most input that we can from the public,” Christie said.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Senate President Steve Sweeney immediately decried Christie’s proposal as an attempt to put civil rights up for vote.
Christie’s call for the vote on same-sex marriage was a blow to New Jersey’s gay rights advocate, who “had just on Monday been effusive in their praise for his nominating Bruce Harris, who will be the state’s first openly gay Supreme Court justice if confirmed.”
For Christie’s proposed referendum to be placed on the ballot in the upcoming November election, it would need to pass the Assembly by a 60 percent majority. Oliver would have to allow the measure to come up for vote in the Assembly; Sweeney has already indicated that he will not allow the measure into the Senate. Indeed, the Senate Judiciary Committee had just approved a same-sex marriage bill, 8-4, yesterday, the same day that Christie made his announcement.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll, 52 percent of New Jersey residents (myself among them) are in support of same-sex marriage while 53 percent believe that denying the right to same-sex marriage is a form of discrimination. But court decisions or legislative bills have in most cases established the right to same-sex marriage in states across the US, says the New York Times:
Same-sex-marriage advocates noted that almost every one of more than 30 ballot questions on gay rights had failed to broaden them; even in 2008, when the country elected a Democratic president, voters in California approved Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage.
“It’s a hard dynamic to win at the polls,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Trenton Democrat who is openly gay. “At the end of the day, gays are a minority and they can’t match the crazies, who are out there and really motivated to vote against it.”
In 2006, New Jersey’s State Supreme Court ruled that gay couples have the same rights as heterosexual married couples. It then fell to the state legislature to determine how to ensure those rights. While a law has been passed allowing civil unions, gay rights advocates have argued that the law does not provide equal rights.
A fight about whether or not to have Christie’s proposed referendum is now likely in Trenton and it is possible that this is just what the governor might wish for. If a referendum is not put on the November ballot, Christie can claim that the state’s legislature wants to deny New Jerseyans their right to be heard on a matter of “huge change.” If the referendum is placed on the ballot and fails, Christie can say “I told you so, the public is not ready.” If voters do approve the measure, they will do so knowing that Christie will be waiting — will be more than ready — with his veto.
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Photo by Bob Jagendorf