Washington, New Jersey governors diverge on gay-marriage bills

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Two more state legislatures are on the verge of approving same-sex marriage, but whether the bills become law depends on two very different governors.

In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie promised at a Tuesday town-hall meeting that he would veto a same-sex marriage bill now advancing through the Democrat-controlled state Legislature, saying that an issue of such magnitude should be decided by the voters.

“Let’s be governed by the will of the people on this,” Mr. Christie told an audience in Bridgewater, N.J. “Let’s let the people decide.”

Some 3,000 miles away at the Washington state Capitol in Olympia, gay-rights supporters were in high spirits Tuesday after clinching what they say is the final vote needed to pass a same-sex marriage bill. State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, a Democrat, announced Monday that she would endorse the legislation, making hers the deciding 25th vote in the 49-member chamber. The state House bill already has enough sponsors to guarantee approval.

The turning point for the legislation came when Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, announced Jan. 4 that she would support a same-sex marriage bill. The governor, who attended President Obama’s State of the Union address in Washington as the guest of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, previously had signed anti-discrimination and domestic-partnership bills, but she had stopped short of backing gay marriage.

“What she’d previously said was that she didn’t think Washington was ready,” said Josh Friedes, director of marriage equality for Equal Rights Washington. “Once the governor came out and said she supported this, people really saw a clear pathway and it created this incredible momentum.”

The governor followed up by introducing her same-sex marriage bill. The Washington Legislature is expected to approve the legislation before the regular session ends March 8.

Opponents of same-sex marriage are discussing how to stop the proposed law from taking effect. With a referendum, foes would have 90 days from the end of the session to collect the 120,577 signatures needed to place the measure before voters.

If the opposition gathers enough signatures, the law would be placed on hold until the November election. Opponents also have filed paperwork to block the law with a Defense of Marriage Act-style ballot measure that would affirm traditional marriage — a move same-sex marriage backers vow to fight.

Washington voters decided in favor of a domestic partnership law in 2009, voting 53 percent to 47 percent in favor of a law extending the rights of unmarried heterosexual and same-sex couples. The outcome marked the first time voters had approved a statewide measure in support of relationship rights for same-sex couples.

In New Jersey, Mr. Christie, a rising star in the national GOP, said he objected to turning the debate over same-sex marriage into a “political football.” His position in favor of a ballot referendum on gay marriage is the same one he espoused when he ran for governor in 2009.

“Whether or not to redefine hundreds of years of societal and religious traditions should not be decided by 121 people in the Statehouse,” Mr. Christie said.

Even so, a few hours after his remarks, the state Senate Judiciary Committee forwarded a same-sex marriage bill to the full Senate on an 8-4 party-line vote. A similar bill introduced two years ago failed in the Senate, but Democrats, who hold a 24-16 majority in the upper chamber, have said they have the votes to win approval this year.

Mr. Christie recently nominated the first openly gay justice to the state Supreme Court, but he said that his nomination of Chatham Mayor Bruce Harris, a Republican, should not be interpreted as a sign that he had changed his mind on gay marriage.

“If this bill comes to my desk, I will veto it, and I will work hard to make sure my veto is sustained in the Legislature,” Mr. Christie said.

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