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NJ Dems’ Marriage Bill Still Far From Becoming Law

While running for governor in 2009, Chris Christie vowed, if elected, to veto any same-sex marriage bill that came to his desk. His support for civil unions but opposition to gay marriage did not hold him back in his decisive victory over Jon Corzine, but the state’s Democratic legislature is about to force Christie to make good on his veto threat.

The state’s Democrats bookended this week by passing a bill legalizing gay marriage in the Senate on Monday and then in the Assembly yesterday, with Christie promising to veto the bill as early as today. Christie had tried to avoid this by urging the legislature to instead put the choice to voters in a referendum. That would have taken Christie out of the equation and would have likely reduced the odds of it passing:

Voters nationwide have rejected gay marriage in all 31 referendums on the issue. Democrats in New Jersey say marriage is a civil right that shouldn’t be subject to a popular vote. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a West Deptford Democrat, said this week “there’s not a chance in hell” he’d post a referendum bill.

Sweeney needed a win against Christie, and this was the best chance he’s had all term. Christie tried to push the legislature to opt for the public referendum by arguing this change should come directly from the people, not career politicians. Thus far, Christie has been able to get the state’s Democrats on board with his agenda. But as I wrote last July, the closer Christie gets to his re-election campaign, the less help he’ll get from Democrats. (A poll last year showed Sweeney to be more popular with Republicans than his own party, and he immediately became less cooperative with Christie.)

Meanwhile, Christie began his term with a rare amount of political capital because of the dire state of New Jersey’s finances and the Democrats’ role in bringing the state to the edge of financial collapse. That political capital may have appeared limitless two years ago, but those reserves have been depleted to pass far-reaching reforms, especially with regard to reining in public unions. The Democrats have been moving closer to political unity and message discipline as Christie’s first term went on, and the timing of this bill is unsurprising.

But that doesn’t mean it will become law. To override Christie’s veto, the Democrats will need Republican votes. Yet in the Assembly, they couldn’t even get every Democrat to vote for the bill. As it stands, for the gay marriage bill to overcome the veto, it will need three more votes in the Senate and 12 more in the Assembly. Christie may have lost the initial political battle here, but he is understandably confident his veto will stand.