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Senate Panel OKs Gay Marriage Bill; Gov. Christie Vows To Veto

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Hearing on gay marriage at the Statehouse - Trenton, NJ - Jan 24, 2012 (credit: Alex Silverman / WCBS 880)

Hearing on gay marriage at the Statehouse – Trenton, NJ – Jan 24, 2012 (credit: Alex Silverman / WCBS 880)

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) –  The battle lines are being drawn once again in New Jersey over the issue of same-sex marriage.

Governor Chris Christie has thrown a new maneuver into the heated debate. He’s proposing to take the issue straight to the public, even as a Senate panel approved a gay marriage bill on Tuesday in an 8-4 party-line vote.

The bill will now go to New Jersey’s full Senate. A House committee will also take it up.

Christie also vowed to veto the bill if it gets to his desk, but Democratic leaders are promising to push to make the governor irrelevant and override his veto — though the votes aren’t in hand yet, WCBS 880′s Alex Silverman reported.

WCBS 880′s Alex Silverman Reports From Trenton

Christie argued an issue of such magnitude should be decided by residents. He said he wants to see a constitutional amendment come up for a vote and encouraged Republican lawmakers to support a ballot measure.

“This is a huge societal change — it needs a lot of consideration,” Christie said Tuesday. “There are very passionate people on both sides, so let’s have at it. Let them make their opinions known and I’ll make mine known.”

“Whether or not to redefine hundreds of years of societal and religious traditions should not be decided by 121 people in the Statehouse,” Christie added.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, said civil rights issues like the right to marry are guaranteed under the state constitution and do not require a public vote. He said it’s time for New Jersey to join six other states and 10 countries that sanction gay marriage, adding that Christie would not get the referendum he seeks.

“We vote on issues here. We don’t put civil rights on a ballot,” Sweeney said.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said she, too, is optimistic.

“It’s two years later and I think public opinion is well ahead of out political establishment,” she said.

Gay rights activist Steven Goldstein said that change is occurring on both sides of the Hudson River.

New York has had a huge influence on New Jersey’s momentum for marriage equality,” he said.

But not everyone supports the bill. Greg Quinlan, member of the New Jersey Family and Policy Council, said lawmakers should be focusing on more important issues.

“It really seems odd that we have a state here whose unemployment rate is higher than the national average, who still has property tax rates that are driving people out of the state, we still have businesses leaving the state and this is priority one, homosexual marriage,” Quinlan said. “Corrupting marriage between one man and one woman and making it something it’s not.”

WCBS 880′s Marla Diamond With Gov. Chris Christie

However, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, opponents could be in for a surprise. A majority of New Jersey voters would allow gay couples to get married.

Fifty-two percent say they would support a same-sex marriage law, while 42 percent are opposed.

The hearing comes a day after Gov. Christie nominated an openly gay black man to the state Supreme Court.

What do you think?  Will New Jersey soon allow same-sex marriage or not? Sound off below in our comments section…

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