Democrats demand gay marriage be put to vote in NJ

December 1, 2009 7:14:24 PM PST
Some 200 high-profile Democrats are urging the state Legislature to vote on a gay marriage bill while there is still a governor in office who would sign it. Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who leaves office Jan. 19, has said he would sign a bill legalizing same-sex marriages; Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie would veto it.

The Democrats - including members of Congress, fundraisers and lobbyists - released a letter Tuesday to leaders in the Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly demanding the bill be put to a vote before the lame-duck legislative session ends in six weeks.

"We appreciate that this is a difficult issue for some state legislators," the letter reads. "But marriage equality is an idea whose time has come. We are confident that the voters will stand by those elected officials who do the right thing."

Signers include Reps. Steve Rothman and Rush Holt, mayors Cory Booker of Newark and David DelVecchio of Lambertville, Public Advocate Ron Chen, and dozens of rank-and-file Democrats.

The letter follows a lobbying day at the Statehouse last week that advocates on both sides of the issue attended.

Gay rights advocates, who once seemed assured that the bill would be put to a vote in New Jersey before the end of the year, have watched momentum to legalize same-sex marriages wane in the state after Christie defeated Corzine on Nov. 3 and a same-sex marriage proposal was defeated by voters in Maine.

Voters in Maine - the only northeastern state where the issue has been put on a ballot - overturned a gay-marriage law before it could take effect.

The New York state Assembly has passed a law to allow gay marriage and the Senate is considering whether to follow suit.

The only U.S. states that allow same-sex marriage are Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

"The opinions of our fellow Democrats certainly mean a lot to us," Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts told The Associated Press on Tuesday in response to the letter. "But, as I've made clear, we need to have a full discussion on this issue as a caucus before we decide how to proceed."

Senate President Richard Codey said he'll be returning to Democratic senators to hear their views on the measure before deciding whether to post it.

Public polls show New Jerseyans split on whether to allow same-sex couples to marry.

The state has a civil unions law, which offers the benefits of marriage to gay couples but not the title. About 4,200 couples have entered into civil unions.

Gay rights advocates say the "separate but equal" status of civil unions isn't enough. Opponents say marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples.