Trenton Democrats announced this afternoon that their top priority for 2012 is to send a bill legalizing gay marriage to Gov. Christie, setting up a showdown filled with political implications.
"Marriage equality represents the third leg on the stool of civil rights and equality in our country," Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) said at a press conference beside several Democrats but no Republicans.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who voted against gay marriage in the past and now says he mistakenly did it for political reasons, didn't say whether the Democratic-controlled Legislature has enough votes to override a possible Christie veto. Instead, he said the veto-proof majority won't matter "if the governor would open his mind and his heart like I have, and get what this is, a civil rights issue."
Christie has had something of a nuanced position on gay issues. In October,he called a teacher's homophobic Facebook rants "disturbing." In June, he said that even as a Catholic, he doesn't think gays are sinners. At the same time, he reiterated his support for civil unions, which are legal in New Jersey.
But he has stated that he is against gay marriage.
A gay couple from Asbury Park spoke at the press conference and described how after one of them was in a life-threatening accident in New York, the other was unable to sign the form to give the OK for surgery, nor access his wallet to get his insurance. The men are legally bound by the civil union law in New Jersey, but they said it wasn't worth the paper it was printed on outside of state lines. That's why, they said, they want to be married like straight couples.
But with the Republican party firmly opposed to gay marriage, and with Christie as a rising star within the party and key surrogate for the GOP front-runner in the presidential race, it would be politically suicidal (or, perhaps, politically bold) for him to sign such a bill. Alternatively, if he doesn't sign it and runs for re-election in New Jersey in 2013, he will face an electorate that mostly supports gay marriage.
Expect the governor to be forced to make a decision by March.