Put gay marriage on the ballot, Christie says

Christie at a town hall meeting earlier this month in Voorhees. (SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer)

UPDATE: For the full story in today's paper, click here.

As Democrats held a hearing this afternoon in Trenton on a gay marriage bill, Republican Gov. Christie held a press conference in Bridgewater with a surprise announcement: He wants the gay marriage question put on the November ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment.

Otherwise, he said, he will veto the Democrats' bill. Alternatively, a statewide referendum would be the most democratic way to make such a sweeping societal change, he said.

"Let the people of New Jersey decide what's right for the state," he said.

Saying some elements in the Democratic party want to use the issue as a "political football," he said "the issue is too big and too consequential."

He urged every legislative Republican to support a bill to put the question on the ballot. Putting the proposal before voters would require a three-fifths vote from the Democrat-controlled Legislature.  

Otherwise, if Democrats send him a gay marriage bill to sign: "I will veto it. Let's be clear."

"It's bigger than just the word" marriage, he said. "It's hundreds of years of tradition, both legally, societally and religiously. And that's what I'm standing up for."

At a news conference earlier this month in which Democrats announced their attention to make this the legislative priority of the year, they said the gay marriage question should not be decided on the ballot because "civil rights issues" should be decided by Legislatures.

And Sen. Ray Lesniak (D., Union), a sponsor of the bill, just issued this statement referencing the sports betting referendum that went on the ballot in November: “Marriage equality isn't like sports betting. It's a civil right which is already guaranteed in our Constitution. It's up to the Legislature to guarantee these rights and support marriage equality for same sex couples.”