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
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