Legislative leaders in New Jersey expect to pass the marriage equality bill next week, although Governor Chris Christie has vowed to veto the measure and a new poll shows that a majority of voters support his call for a referendum.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver issued a statement late Monday after surveying her Democratic members. Lawmakers have expressed confidence that the required 41 votes can be garnered to pass the bill in the chamber.
"We had a great conversation today about marriage equality and several other important matters," said Oliver. "I look forward to the Assembly voting on February 16 to give the marriage equality legislation final legislative approval."
The Senate is scheduled to vote on the marriage equality bill this Monday, February 13. Senate President Steve Sweeney expects to meet the threshold of 21 votes required for passage. The bill failed by a 20-14 vote in the senate in 2010.
However, Governor Christie supports the state's civil union law and has vowed to veto the marriage equality bill. It remains unclear whether the Democratic legislative leaders can gather enough Republican support to muster the two-thirds majorities needed for an override. The Republican governor has called for lawmakers to put the issue to voters in a referendum, a suggestion that Sweeney and his colleagues flatly reject.
Despite considerable uproar about the referendum proposal, which African-American leaders denounced as putting civil rights to a vote, a new Kean University/NJ Speaks poll of 1,000 likely voters finds that 57% support holding a referendum on same-sex marriage, while 32% oppose the idea. Some 48% of respondents said they favor marriage equality, while 37% oppose it.
The vote in New Jersey will mark another development in a remarkable month for marriage equality advances in the country. The Washington state House is expected to pass the marriage equality bill this week, and Governor Christine Gregoire has vowed to sign it. On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, one of two openly gay lawmakers in New Jersey and a lead sponsor of the legislation, issued a statement saying that the Prop. 8 ruling validates the argument "that a referendum on the rights of minorities in this state is not only wrong, but unnecessary because these rights are already guaranteed in the Constitution."
"This is an affirmation of true equality, but more importantly, it's an affirmation that the proper path to equal rights for same-sex couples in New Jersey is through the legislature, lest we subject our state to the type of costly and divisive campaign California underwent in 2008," he said.
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