A new poll indicates that a majority of New Jersey voters support marriage equality, but as legislation makes it way through the state legislature, they also side with Governor Chris Christie in wanting a referendum on the issue.
The Los Angeles Times reports on the mixed results of the Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Tuesday, one day after the New Jersey Senate passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The Assembly will vote on the measure Thursday, but Christie has vowed to veto any bill that reaches his desk. The Republican governor wants lawmakers to send the issue to voters in a referendum this November, an idea the Democratic-controlled legislature has strongly rejected.
According to the poll, 54% of 914 registered voters surveyed said they support same-sex marriage, compared with 35% opposed. However, 53% of voters also said they support the Christie proposal for a referendum. Referendum opponents, including many African-American leaders, have denounced the idea of a public vote as incompatible with civil rights.
The Times reported that David Redlawsk, a Rutgers University pollster, found the poll results “surprising.” He suggested that with several polls showing majority support for same-sex marriage in New Jersey, perhaps respondents who support marriage equality think it would win a referendum. However, he said that view could represent “wishful thinking,” given the tendency of referendum campaigns to intensify opposition and draw attention and money from out of state.
The poll is not the first to find majority support for a referendum in New Jersey. Last week, a Kean University/NJ Speaks poll of 1,000 likely voters found that 57% supported a referendum on allowing same-sex marriage, while 32% opposed the idea.
Same-sex marriage shows a long history of losing at the ballot, although advocates in Maine are attempting to change that this year with a campaign to reverse the referendum that overturned the marriage equality law in 2009. In Washington State, where Governor Christine Gregoire signed the marriage equality bill into law on Monday, advocates expect to face a referendum, but they believe they can win, based on their ability to uphold an expanded domestic partnership law at the ballot in 2009.
The New Jersey state legislature could attempt to override the governor’s veto and make the bill become law, but it remains doubtful whether enough Republican support exists now for the required two-thirds majority. The bill passed the senate Monday in a 24-16 vote with support from two Republicans. Advocates have a considerable amount of time to work toward the override, with the current legislative session scheduled to end in January 2014.