NJ Dems To Try To Override Veto On Gay Marriage

By Angela Delli Santi

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -

Democratic leaders in the New Jersey Legislature have agreed to try to override Republican Gov. Chris Christie's gay marriage veto, and are open for the first time to putting the question to voters in November if the override attempt fails.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora of Trenton, one of two openly gay state lawmakers, said Democratic leaders in the Senate and Assembly agreed to renew the push for marriage equality during a meeting Thursday. The strategy could include putting the question to voters in November with Christie on the ballot. The governor, who is Catholic, opposes same-sex marriage.

The November ballot already will include a question on whether the state should raise its minimum wage and is likely to have Democratic Sen. Barbara Buono, who supports both the minimum wage increase and gay marriage, at the top of the ticket facing Christie.

"This could be a perfect storm to get out the Democratic base," Gusciora said.

Christie, who vetoed the gay marriage bill a year ago, has urged lawmakers to put the question to voters.

"On this issue, I am comfortable with the people of the state of New Jersey making the decision," Christie said Tuesday in Lavallette. "If they want to put it on the ballot, put it on the ballot."

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat who was opposed to gay marriage in 2010 but has come to regret that decision and now supports it, has previously refused to put the question to voters. He has said same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue that does not belong on the ballot. However, Sweeney and Assembly Democratic Leader Lou Greenwald recognize the difficulty of overriding Christie and have agreed to keep their options open, Gusciora said.

This displeases Troy Stevenson, who recently took over as head of Garden State Equality, the state's largest gay-rights organization. Stevenson, who worked in Maine in 2009 on the losing side of a gay marriage referendum, said the effort to win marriage equality by ballot initiative is divisive, expensive and incredibly rough on families headed by same-sex partners.

"We still believe override is the immediate goal," he said.

The Democratic-led Legislature has never been successful in overriding a Christie veto. They'd need a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and Assembly, which means some Republicans would have to be willing to cross the governor.

The effort will start in the Senate, where Sweeney will need to persuade 27 of 40 senators to support gay marriage. The Assembly would need yes votes from 54 of its 80 members.

Stevenson acknowledges that if the vote were held next week, the override would fail. But he holds out hope that an expected June ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on the Defense of Marriage Act could bring new momentum - and votes - if the court rules as gay activists hope.

Three states approved gay marriage in ballot questions in November, with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket - Maine, Maryland and Washington.


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