TRENTON, N.J. - The New Jersey Assembly passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriages yesterday, setting the stage for an expected veto by Governor Chris Christie.
The 42-33 vote sends the bill to Christie’s desk. The Republican governor, who opposes gay marriage, had promised “very swift action’’ if the bill passed both houses of the Legislature. The Senate approved the bill Monday.
“Without question this is a historic day in the state of New Jersey,’’ Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said after the vote. She said she had never been more proud of the Democratic caucus for doing “what citizens sent us here to do: to deliberate, to use the legislative process to represent the interests of all New Jerseyans.’’
Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay-rights group Garden State Equality, echoed the speaker’s sentiments.
“Today, the Legislature has brought us to the promised land,’’ said Goldstein. “We know the governor won’t let us enter, but we finally behold the view of our dreams, and we will never turn back.’’
Christie and most state GOP lawmakers want gay marriage put to a popular vote. Democrats say gay marriage is a civil right protected by the Constitution and not subject to referendum.
Six states and Washington, D.C., recognize gay marriages. The state of Washington’s new gay marriage law is scheduled to take effect in June.
However, 30 states have constitutional amendments aimed at preventing gay marriage, most by defining marriage as a union between man and woman.
Four of the Assembly’s 47 Democrats voted no, and a fifth was out of town and did not vote. No Republicans voted in favor of the bill.
The Senate passed the bill 24-16. In that chamber, two Republicans voted for the bill and two Democrats voted against it.
The bill would need several Republican votes in each house to override the governor; Christie himself essentially guaranteed that that will not happen.
With that in mind, Democrats who identified same-sex marriage as their No. 1 priority for the two-year legislative session that began in January have adopted a longer view. They say there is no rush for an override vote, especially because the Legislature has been unsuccessful in every prior attempt to override Christie, most notably to reinstate a surcharge on millionaires.
Instead, they plan to bide their time in hopes that support for gay marriage - currently 52-42 percent in New Jersey, according to one recent voter poll - will continue to grow.
In case same-sex couples cannot win gay marriage through legislation, they have engaged in a parallel fight in the courts. Seven gay couples and several of their children have sued, claiming that the state’s civil union law does not work as intended.