Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who last year rejected a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings today on the issue were misguided.
The high court justices ignored the will of a Democratic president and a Republican-led Congress that enacted the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which denied benefits to married same- sex couples, Christie said. The candidate for re-election in November spoke on the issue today on a monthly call-in program broadcast on Townsquare Media LLC’s WKXW-FM station in Ewing.
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion was “demeaning” to lawmakers who had cast votes on the measure, Christie said. The court struck down the U.S. law by a 5-4 vote. Twelve states and the District of Columbia allow such marriages, while New Jersey doesn’t.
The Garden State permits same-sex civil-unions under a 2006 law. Seven gay couples sued in 2011, claiming in New Jersey Superior Court that the statute has made them a separate legal class whose rights aren’t fully understood or recognized. The legislature, run by Democrats, passed a same-sex marriage bill in February 2012, which Christie vetoed.
New Jerseyans backed gay weddings 62 percent to 30 percent, a record level of support, in a Rutgers-Eagleton telephone poll of 923 adults taken April 3-7. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
Lawmakers could try to pass a bill similar to the 2012 measure and try to override a veto, though Democrats, including Assemblyman Tim Eustace, who lives in Maywood with his male partner of 30 years, have said they lack enough votes.
“For the thousands of same-sex couples and their families still struggling for equality in their states, including New Jersey, I hope this will serve as a beacon of hope that eventually justice will prevail,” Eustace said in a statement about the court rulings today.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, an openly gay Democrat from Trenton, sponsored a bill to put the question before voters in November. Leaders of his party, including Senate President Steve Sweeney of West Deptford and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, from East Orange, have said the matter involves a civil right that shouldn’t be subject to a popular vote.
Christie said he’d support putting the subject before voters, and blamed “politics” for keeping such a measure off the ballot.
“I’ve said I wouldn’t object to it,” the governor said of giving the state’s voters the opportunity to decide the issue. He said he personally would vote against making same-sex marriage legal, though he would uphold the law if it passed.
In a separate ruling today, the Supreme Court effectively ended a ban on gay weddings in California, the result of passage of a ballot measure there. The justices didn’t rule on the merits of the California law, only a procedural matter that made its legality moot.
Same-sex marriage derailed Christie’s May 2012 nomination of Bruce Harris to the state Supreme Court. Harris, an openly gay Republican and a finance lawyer, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would recuse himself from same-sex marriage matters. Panel members cited the statement and his lack of courtroom experience in rejecting Harris.
Christie called the move a “political assassination.”
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