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In New Jersey, gay-marriage supporters and foes await vote

February 16, 2012 | 10:38 am

Gay marriage New Jersey

Scores of people gathered in a chilly drizzle outside Trenton's historic statehouse Thursday as lawmakers prepared to vote on a bill that could make New Jersey the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has vowed to veto the bill if it passes, but that didn't stop opponents of gay marriage from turning out in force.

"The state needs to hear us. It's not just a question of the governor overriding something," said Paula Lerch, a retired teacher from New Jersey. She and others who oppose same-sex marriage said Christie's promised veto was just one step in a battle to put the nation's brakes on the issue.

Washington state on Monday became the seventh state to approve gay marriage, when its Catholic governor signed its bill into law.

Father Timothy Christy, a Roman Catholic priest, said Washington state's move made him "concerned about where the country is going." He was among the hundreds of people in New Jersey -- from both sides of the issue -- who lined up hours before the afternoon Assembly session to get inside the building.

"The fundamental right of marriage as being something for a man and a woman is not being understood. The state, instead of redefining it, has an obligation to defend it," Christy told The Times.

Christy and Lerch dismissed a poll released Tuesday showing that most New Jersey voters support same-sex marriage. Christy said he believed voters were misled into believing that same-sex marriage was a civil rights issue and that they did not want to be seen as against civil rights. That concern, he said, led to skewed poll results.

The New Jersey Senate approved the marriage equality act Monday and the Democratic-controlled Assembly was expected to follow suit. But Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality, a leading gay rights advocate, said that did not relieve his nervousness.

"I'm nervous as can be," he said before entering the Assembly chamber, where the visitor's gallery was filled to capacity. "This is not just politics. This is our lives."

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Reed Gusciora, also admitted to nerves. "Everyone's going to be watching," he said. "We're racing with California to see who can do this the right way."

Gov. Christie has said he supports putting the issue on the ballot in November for voters to decide. But a court in California last week threw out the results of a similar measure, Proposition 8, in which voters had rejected the idea of same-sex marriage.

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-- Tina Susman in Trenton, N.J.

Photo: Members of Garden State Equality were listening Monday from the gallery as the New Jersey Senate passed a bill legalizing gay marriage. The state Assembly takes up the measure Thursday. Credit: David Gard / Associated Press

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