The Advocate reports: A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage passed the New Jersey senate judiciary committee as expected yesterday afternoon. The 8 to 4 vote cleared the way for the bill to come to the senate floor next month, although Governor Chris Christie renewed his vow to veto the legislation and urged lawmakers to “let the people of New Jersey decide” the issue in a referendum.
Democratic lawmakers introduced the bill two weeks ago with the expectation that it would pass both houses, in contrast with 2010, when the measure died after a 20-14 vote in the senate. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who abstained from voting two years ago, has since changed his position and become a sponsor of the legislation. He told The Advocate he planned to discuss the legislation with Christie, who could choose to veto the bill or let it become law without his signature, after it passed the senate and general assembly.
However, Christie appeared to foreclose prospects for dialogue when, at the same time as the committee hearing, he announced during a town hall that he planned to veto the bill. The governor said he wanted lawmakers to put the issue before voters in a referendum. A Quinnipiac poll last week showed that a majority (52%) of New Jersey voters support marriage equality for the first time.
"I think this is not an issue that should rest solely in my hands, or the hands of the Senate President or the Speaker or the other 118 members of the Legislature," said the governor, according to the Star-Ledger. "Let's let the people of New Jersey decide what is right for the state."
The remarks represented a departure from Christie’s more open tone of recent weeks. As recently as Monday, a Christie spokesman told The Advocate that the governor planned to allow the legislative process to unfold, and then review it in accordance with a 45-day review period, "just as he would any other piece of legislation.”
Senate President Sweeney responded with a resounding no when a speaker informed the hearing participants of the governor's announcement. His reply appeared to escalate the mounting confrontation between Democratic lawmakers and the Republican governor.
"Civil rights is not to be placed on the ballot," said Sweeney after a speaker interrupted to share the governor's announcement. "It’s to be voted on by the people in this house."