First Washington, Now New Jersey Braces for Marriage Showdown

BY Julie Bolcer

January 24 2012 5:00 AM ET

Whether lawmakers will have to override a veto depends on how Christie
responds, and his statements and actions in the last few weeks have left
Trenton observers guessing. As recently as June, following the passage
of marriage equality in New York, the governor told NBC’s Meet The Press that he was “not a fan” of
same-sex marriage and would not sign a bill like the one in the
neighboring state. However, last week he expressed a new openness on the
matter, saying “We’ll see what happens” when asked about the bill during a radio interview
with WCBS 880. On Monday, Christie stunned observers again when he
nominated Bruce Harris, an African-American Republican mayor, to be the
first openly gay Supreme Court justice. The governor said during the press conference that the nomination did not signal a change in his position on same-sex marriage, however, and Garden State Equality chairman Steven Goldstein, who praised the nomination, cautioned that it would be “unwise” to draw any conclusions from the development.

Sweeney said the governor could pursue
“many avenues” if lawmakers present him with a bill as expected. He
could veto the bill outright, issue a conditional veto, or just let it
become law by taking no action and allowing the 45-day review period to
expire. He could also sign the bill, although Sweeney considered that
the least likely outcome.

“I really don’t anticipate that, but
what I would hope is he would allow his senators and assembly people on
his side of the aisle to vote their conscience,” he said. “If not, let
it become law, respect that people have been denied their civil rights,
and that they’re respecting your beliefs, as far as marriage between a
man and a woman. We’re not violating either side.”

A spokesman
for Christie said the governor would allow the legislative process to unfold and review any legislation that reaches his desk in accordance with
the 45-day period. The burden for passing the bill rests on legislators, however.

“What the governor did say is that he
didn’t believe there were majorities in the legislature that would allow
the bill to be forwarded to his desk,” said deputy press secretary
Kevin Roberts. “But if that were to occur, he would review the
legislation just as he would any other piece of legislation.”

Compared
to 2009, when the governor-elect told a group of New Jersey Republicans
that he would return a same-sex marriage to lawmakers with a “big red
veto across it,” his recent comments mark a shift. Even the National
Organization for Marriage took notice, blasting his new statements as
“troubling” in an alert to followers last week and threatening to spend $500,000 to
support lawmakers who oppose the bill and challenge those who vote for it.

The
situation would seem to put the popular Christie, often mentioned as a 2016
presidential hopeful or even a prospective 2012 vice presidential pick,
in an awkward position as national polls show support for same-sex marriage increasing rapidly among Americans. Sweeney dismissed the suggestion of
a political setup, and argued that the governor could find justification enough in a
new Quinnipiac poll that shows a majority of New Jersey voters (52%)
support marriage equality for the first time.

“The point is,
there’s avenues around here where he can say, ‘I oppose it’ and it still
become law because it was the right thing to do,” said Sweeney. “The
governor’s made his position clear. We’re hoping he has the compassion
to recognize this is a civil rights issue. Nothing more, nothing less.”













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