- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2012

New Jersey Democratic lawmakers Monday said they will fast-track bills to legalize gay marriage, echoing promises made by state officials in Maryland and Washington state.

“I made a mistake, but I can tell you I’m going to fix that,” New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Monday, referring to his failure to vote for gay marriage two years ago when then-Gov. Jon Corzine would have signed it.

Mr. Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, both Democrats, said at a news conference they would make gay marriage a priority. “For those of us that believe in equality, equality and equality, marriage equality represents the third leg on the stool of civil rights and equality in this nation,” said Ms. Oliver.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has said he supports same-sex civil unions, which are now legal in New Jersey, but not gay marriage.

Same-sex marriage opponents in Trenton vowed to fight the latest move, with the National Organization for Marriage saying it was ready to spend up to $500,000 to back state lawmakers who will fight the measure.

“The media is reporting that gay marriage is sure to pass through the Legislature, but we heard the same false story in 2009 and 2010. The people of New Jersey can and will stop this bill,” said NOM President Brian Brown.

Following New York’s move to legalize gay marriage last year, same-sex unions are recognized in six states and supporters hope to pick up a few more states in the near future.

In Washington state, Democrat Gov. Christine Gregoire has said she will introduce a gay-marriage bill as soon as possible.

“I’ve been on my own personal journey in this issue. I think the state has been as well,” she told KCTS-9 television last week.

The Washington state Legislature convened Monday, and a spokeswoman in Mrs. Gregoire’s office said it was not certain when the bill would be introduced. However, Democratic legislative leaders, who are in the majority, have signaled their support for gay marriage, and Mrs. Gregoire said she would be active on the issue.

In Maryland, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley has also pledged to sponsor a gay-marriage bill when the Maryland General Assembly convenes Jan. 11. In 2011, gay marriage passed the state Senate, but died in the House of Delegates.

Meanwhile, in Maine, voters may have the chance to vote for gay marriage this November.

In 2009, lawmakers passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage, and then-Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, signed it. But opponents gathered enough signatures to put the law on the ballot, and it was overturned with almost 53 percent of the vote.

Gay-marriage supporters think times have changed, and Jan. 30, Equality Maine and its allies are expected to turn in the 57,000 signatures needed for a modified same-sex marriage amendment that, according to backers, “protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.”

The coming year will see two other milestones in the fight over gay marriage: In May, North Carolina voters will decide whether to amend their constitution to define marriage as only the union of one man and one woman. In November, voters in Minnesota will vote on a similar marriage amendment.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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