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New Jersey Assembly Schedules Gay Marriage Vote

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New Jersey Statehouse - Trenton, NJ - File Photo

New Jersey Statehouse – Trenton, NJ (file)

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RENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The leader of the New Jersey Assembly announced Monday that a bill allowing gay marriage would be put to a vote next week, as Democratic leaders continued to wrangle the support needed to ensure passage.

Assembly Democrats met privately for 90 minutes primarily on gay marriage before Speaker Sheila Oliver announced the vote on Feb. 16. That’s three days after the Senate is scheduled to vote on an identical bill granting same-sex couples the right to marry civilly in New Jersey.

Oliver told The Associated Press on Friday that the caucus meeting would be the first formal survey of legislators on the issue. But afterward, three legislators who were in the meeting said no head count had been taken. Oliver did not speak publicly after the session.

“Leadership is confident that the votes are there,” Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Trenton, one of two openly gay Assembly members and a sponsor of the bill.

Gusciora, who last week put the vote total at 34 in favor, said the number has been rising since. He projected that the Assembly would get to the 41 votes needed for passage, but acknowledged Monday that “the final one or two” votes were still being rounded up. At least six Democrats were absent from the meeting, according to the three who were inside.

Six other states and Washington, D.C. allow gay marriage, while 30 states have adopted constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union between man and woman.

Democrats in New Jersey have made gay marriage a priority for this legislative session.

Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican and practicing Catholic who opposes gay marriage, has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. He wants the issue decided by popular vote instead. Democrats oppose that idea, saying gay nuptials is a civil right guaranteed by the constitution and should not be subject to public vote.

Christie garnered unwelcome attention when — in trying to explain his position — he equated gay marriage to the struggle for civil rights and said people in the civil rights movement would have been happy to have the matter settled by referendum rather than dying in the streets of the South. The governor then called Gusciora “numb nuts” after the lawmaker said Christie would have found allies in segregationist Southern governors.

Gusciora said he and the governor plan to meet this week. The meeting had been set for Monday, but was postponed because of celebration planning after the New York Giants won Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Christie’s opposition to the bill means Republican lawmakers will be hard-pressed to cross the governor and vote for it.

Republicans were not privy to Monday’s Democratic caucus, where no one spoke in opposition to the bill.

“This was an opportunity for leadership to stress the importance of the vote,” said Gusciora. “What was stressed was a unified vote on the 16th.”

That could be difficult for those with religious convictions or constituencies who oppose gay marriage. It becomes an even more difficult vote for some, knowing that the governor plans to veto the bill.

Democrats need 27 votes in the Senate and 54 in the Assembly for veto-proof majorities. Democrats would need help from Republicans in each house to override a Christie veto. No Christie veto has been overridden.

Democrats failed to get gay marriage through the Legislature in 2010, even though a lame-duck Democrat, Gov. Jon Corzine, was ready to sign it. The Senate managed 14 votes of the 21 needed; the bill never came to a vote in the Assembly.

Garden State Equality, the state’s most vocal gay rights group, is advocating for the legislation while pursuing a parallel course in the courts. The organization and same-sex couples have sued, arguing that the state’s civil union law — which provides for the legal benefits of marriage without the title — is flawed. The case is pending.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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