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

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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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Christie stands by decision to lower flags for Whitney Houston

-- 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


Whitney Houston: N.J. governor stands by decision to lower flags

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, no stranger to controversy, is standing firm in his decision to fly flags at half-staff on behalf of Whitney Houston, despite complaints that the late pop singer should not have that recognition because of her history of drug problems.

The governor has ordered flags at government buildings to be flown at half-staff Saturday, the day of Houston’s funeral at the Newark, N.J., church where she sang as a child. The body of the 48-year-old musical icon was found Saturday in the bathtub of her guest room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

There has been no ruling on the cause of death, but officials have said there were “no obvious signs of criminal intent.” Toxicology tests are under way to determine if drugs were involved.

Houston, in television interviews, had acknowledged past drug and alcohol problems and the fact that she had been in rehabilitation. Such problems were one reason for complaints about Christie’s decision to lower the flags.

Christie, who has built a national reputation for his pugnacious charm, refused to give ground to opponents. He told critics that Houston had made significant cultural contributions to the state.

“For those people who say, ‘I don’t think she deserves it,’ I say to them, 'I understand that you don’t think that. I do, and it’s my executive order,' " Christie said this week.

“I’ve seen these messages and emails that have come to me disparaging her for her troubles with substance abuse,” Christie said. “What I’d say to everybody is: There but for the grace of God go I.”

On Thursday, Christie’s decision was backed by FOX News commentator Bill O'Reilly, who has been outspoken about Houston's death and her use of drugs.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, O’Reilly said it was right to lower the flags and also urged society to deal more forcefully with drug abuse.

“I think we should respect the life and talent of Whitney Houston. I said a prayer when I heard she died. This isn't a personal thing. This is a preventive thing. I want society and media to tell the truth about drug and alcohol addiction,” O’Reilly said. “Let's stop exploiting it and start explaining it.”

The other argument levied against the governor is that a pop singer doesn’t have the standing in society to merit the lowering of the flags.

In response, Christie noted that he has ordered flags flown at half-staff for all 31 fallen New Jersey soldiers and every slain police officer during his time in office.

He also ordered flags lowered last year for Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

Houston’s funeral will be private, but the Associated Press will have a video camera inside and will stream the service.

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Photo: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his wife, Mary Pat Christie, attend a funeral last month for Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, 75. Credit: Mel Evans / Associated Press


Whitney Houston: Plans for private funeral dismay some fans

 

Whitney Houston will be mourned by family and friends in a private service Saturday at the Newark, N.J., church where she first began singing in public, and there will be no public events surrounding the funeral.

The announcement has left some fans crestfallen, especially after early reports indicated that the family was considering a public service for thousands of people at the Prudential Center sports arena in Newark, where Houston was born 48 years ago and where she sang in the choir at the New Hope Baptist Church.

Carolyn Whigham, the owner of the Whigham Funeral Home, which is handling the arrangements, disclosed the plans Tuesday. She also said that Houston, who died Saturday, would not be buried in Newark, but she did not say where the pop queen would be laid to rest.

"They have shared her for 30-some years with the city, with the state, with the world. This is their time now for their farewell," Whigham said by way of explaining the family's desire for a private ceremony inside the New Hope Baptist Church, which since early Sunday has been visited by Houston fans leaving flowers, cards and other mementos at the church gate.

One of those who came by Tuesday, and who was disappointed to learn that the public would not be invited to the service, was Calvin Taylor, who said he had skipped work as a forklift driver to pay his respects.

"The public should have an opportunity to give a last goodbye to one of the city's most beloved daughters," he told the Star-Ledger. "She touched so many people, I think it's terrible," he said. "She's got a lot of love here."

Sharon Bailey agreed. "They should have one," Bailey said of the idea for a public memorial. "She's the queen of pop. Her death feels like a loss in my family."

Local media reported that police planned to close the street on which the church is located to keep crowds away, but that if the family agreed to let a camera inside the church, large screens would be erected outside so fans could watch the service.

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-- Tina Susman in New York

Video: Associated Press Television / YouTube

 


Gay marriage poll: Most in New Jersey support it, but want vote

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Most voters in New Jersey support gay marriage, but a majority also say the issue should be put on the ballot for voters to make the final decision, a new poll finds. The poll was released as New Jersey lawmakers prepare to vote Thursday on a bill that would make the state the eighth in the nation to recognize same-sex unions.

The Rutgers-Eagleton poll, released Tuesday, surveyed 914 registered voters and found that 54% of them support gay marriage, which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie opposes. Thirty-five percent oppose gay marriage, the poll found.

At the same time, 53% support Christie's call for voters to decide on gay marriage in a November referendum. Critics of such a vote say that would be akin to letting voters decide on crucial civil rights matters.

Pollster David Redlawsk, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said it was "surprising" that the poll indicated majority support both for gay marriage and for the voters to decide on the question. "It may be that given several polls showing majority support among voters, supporters of same-sex marriage think it would win in November. But in the face of a likely intensive campaign from opponents, this could be wishful thinking," he said in a statement accompanying the poll results.

The survey was released a day after New Jersey's state Senate, by a vote of 24 to 16, approved a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, and as Washington state became the seventh to legalize same-sex marriage at a bill-signing ceremony. Conservatives and religious leaders there have vowed to collect signatures to give voters the chance to overturn the bill in a referendum.

In New Jersey, lawmakers in the Assembly are expected to vote on the gay marriage bill Thursday in the state capital, Trenton, but Christie has vowed to veto the bill if it passes and to let voters decide on it.

Despite the California appellate court decision last week that struck down just such a referendum -- Proposition 8, which had limited marriage to a union between a man and a woman -- other states are pursuing the referendum route in hopes of blocking lawmakers from making gay marriage legal. Referendums in Minnesota and North Carolina would limit the definition of marriage to male-female unions.

In Maine, meanwhile, supporters of gay marriage are planning a ballot measure that would expand the definition of marriage to a union involving same-sex couples. This came in response to a 2009 referendum approved by voters that limited marriage's definition to include male-female unions only -- a referendum that overturned lawmakers' earlier approval of gay marriage.

New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia are the only places in the United States so far where same-sex couples' marriages are legally recognized.

-- Tina Susman in New York

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Photo: Spectators applaud as New Jersey's Senate on Monday approves a bill by a vote of 24-16 recognizing same-sex marriage. The Assembly takes up the measure Thursday, but Gov. Chris Christie has vows a veto. Credit: David Gard/Associated Press


Super Bowl 2012: Tour the stadium this way -- it's cheaper

For those who don't have several thousand dollars to drop on a pair of Super Bowl XLVI tickets, there's this: Google Earth has posted a nifty video on the path -- literally -- to Game Day.

The New England Patriots will soon take on the New York Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. So the folks at 3D Google Earth have created a video that visually flies you up, over and around each team's home base, then takes you through to the Game Day stadium. It might be a little weird seeing all those empty seats, but it's still pretty darn cool.

And way cheaper.

Of course, Super Bowl XLVI is more than just a Super Bowl. In the football world, this is a Clash of the Titans. Must read: This story by our colleague Lance Pugmire about the bitter rivalry being stoked anew by this New York vs. Boston showdown.

Die-hard football fans probably have this info etched into their DNA, but for everyone else, here's some info to keep handy: The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and there's at 6:30 p.m. Eastern start.

And by "start," we mean that's when all the official pre-game hoopla begins. Highlights: "American Idol" Kelly Clarkson will sing the National Anthem. (Note to Steven Tyler: You might want to tune in to see how it's done.)

The half-time show will belong to a relative newcomer, as well as an old-timer with biceps chiseled in stone: Nicki Minaj and Madonna will have those honors. 

And in case you were wondering, just how much are Super Bowl XLVI tickets? At last check, TicketCity.com was offering them for about $2,400.

Each.

Makes you want to go back and watch that Google Earth 3D video all over again, huh?

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-- Rene Lynch
twitter/renelynch


New Jersey gay-marriage bill advances; Chris Christie vows veto

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Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey said they have enough votes to pass a gay-marriage bill and advanced the measure Tuesday, despite the governor's pledge to veto it. 

Republican Gov. Chris Christie has called on the Legislature to instead put the issue before state voters in the fall.

“This issue that our state is exploring -- whether or not to redefine hundreds of years of societal and religious traditions -- should not be decided by 121 people in the Statehouse in Trenton,” Christie told an audience in Bridgewater, N.J., on  Tuesday. “Let’s let the people of New Jersey decide what is right for the state.”

Dozens of New Jersey residents  packed a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday, expressing both strong support and opposition for the measure, known as S1 because it was the first bill introduced in the current legislative session.

The committee advanced the bill after an 8-4 vote along party lines. 

The full Legislature hopes to schedule a hearing and vote soon on the matter, a staffer told The Times.

The Newark Star-Ledger reported that about 350 supporters of same-sex marriage, including Democratic State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, one of the Senate bill’s sponsors, rallied outside the New Jersey Statehouse before the committee hearing. 

One speaker Tuesday questioned whether the social issue should be a legislative priority in this session when the state is still grappling with economic issues. 

Washington state is also moving ahead on a gay-marriage bill that lawmakers said Monday has enough votes to pass. 

Earlier this month, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire announced that she would introduce same-sex  marriage legislation, saying: "It's time, it's the right thing to do."

Same-sex marriage is already legal in six states -- New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont -- and the District of Columbia.

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Photo: New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, co-sponsor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, listens Tuesday to a speaker during a hearing at the Statehouse in Trenton. Credit: Mel Evans/Associated Press


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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