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Gay marriage: N.J. Assembly approves measure, Christie vows veto

February 16, 2012 |  2:19 pm

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New Jersey lawmakers passed legislation Thursday to recognize gay marriage, making the state the eighth to do so and setting the stage for Gov. Chris Christie to veto the measure.

The 42-33 vote in the Democratic-controlled Assembly followed the Senate's approval Monday and came after emotional speeches from both sides.

One lawmaker, Democrat Cleopatra Tucker, said that as a deaconess in her church, she had "struggled over this. ...I really had problems and struggled with this."

But she said she had decided to support the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act. "This bill today is not a religious issue. It's a civil rights issue," she said.

In the visitors gallery overlooking the floor, rival groups either gave standing ovations to speakers or sat in stony silence, depending on their leanings.

Republican Nancy Munoz said she had decided to vote against the measure after comments from her constituents convinced her that they opposed the measure. She said voters should get to make the final decision in a ballot referendum. "I trust the people of New Jersey and I say they should be allowed to voice their opinion," she said as opponents of the act, dressed uniformly in bright red, burst into whoops and applause.

The reaction drew an angry lecture from the Assembly speaker, who threatened to have security evict the next person who violated his demands to stay quiet.

The bill now goes to Christie, presumably to be vetoed. Lawmakers have until the end of the legislative session in January 2014 to muster enough votes to override a veto. In the meantime, Christie has said he'll back a referendum that would let voters decide the issue.

Seven states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage, and a gay-marriage bill in Maryland advanced to the House of Delegates floor Tuesday, with a vote expected Friday. Gov. Martin O’Malley supports the law, but it is unclear whether it will get the 71 votes it needs to pass. The bill has support from both parties, but the issue has divided state lawmakers along religious and racial lines, with some Christians and blacks opposing the measure.

A similar measure passed in the state Senate last year, but failed to clear the house. Opponents of the bill have announced plans to hold a referendum in November if it passes.

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-- Tina Susman in Trenton, N.J., and Ian Duncan in Washington

Photo: Supporters show their appreciation after the New Jersey State Legislature passes the gay marriage bill in Trenton, N.J. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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