Gov. Chris Christie said he would again veto a same-sex marriage bill if it reaches his desk, and that Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a ban on federal benefits for same-sex married couples will have no effect on New Jersey, one of a handful of states that allows civil unions.
Appearing on TownSquare Media's "Ask the Governor," program Wednesday night, Christie said he remains opposed to gay marriage but is willing to put the question to voters.
"What I've said all along is what I said when I vetoed the last one, 'let the people decide,'" Christie said. "You're talking about changing an institution that's over 2000 years old. The Democrats are putting an increase in the minimum wage on the ballot. That's important enough to put on the ballot but gay marriage is not?"
Christie, who said he supports civil unions, also criticized the federal court for the ruling, levying a criticism typically reserved for New Jersey's highest court.
"It's just another example of judicial supremacy rather than having a government run by the people we actually vote for," he said. "I thought it was a bad decision, but it has no effect on New Jersey at all so we move from here."
Sen. Barbara Buono, the Democrat running against Christie for governor and the parent of an adult gay daughter, called for an override of Christie's veto to be held Thursday. But a spokesman for Senate President Steve Sweeney said that won't happen.
Advocates for gay marriage in New Jersey will file a motion next week asking a judge to force the state to recognize same-sex marriage following a Supreme Court's ruling.
Lambda Legal lawyer Hayley Gorenberg told The Associated Press on Wednesday that a state judge has scheduled a hearing on the topic for Aug. 15, a move that could fast-track an issue that was at least several months from a trial in a state that has resisted allowing gay marriage after being among the earliest to extend legal protections for gay couples. It's one of seven states that gives legal protections of marriage to same-sex couples without recognizing their nuptials.
Gorenberg is a lawyer for seven gay couples and several of their children who are already suing the state, claiming that New Jersey's civil union law does not comply with a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that gay couples are entitled to the same legal protections as married heterosexual couples.
The gay rights groups have argued that civil unions are not widely understood and that they create an improper separate legal classification for gay couples.
Now, Gorenberg said, the plaintiffs can also argue that state law deprives couples of more than 1,000 federal rights, something that she said strengthens the families' position. "New Jersey barring marriage and only allowing civil unions is all that's keeping people from their federal rights," she said.
A spokesman for the state attorney general's office, which is defending the law in court, said the office would not comment on the impact of Wednesday's ruling.
Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, which opposes gay marriage, said he believes that under Wednesday's court ruling, New Jersey couples with civil unions could receive those federal benefits. That interpretation is different from what most gay rights groups say the ruling says. "It gives the states jurisdiction to decide what marriage is," Deo said. "New Jersey's choice has been civil unions and it matters not what the other states have done."
Democrats have never been able to override one of Christie's vetoes, which they cannot do without Republican support.
Asked whether he would allow Republican members of the Legislature to vote their conscience on an attempted override, Christie said, "that's just a fake issue. It's a stupid question. You're assuming they're not voting their conscience now, and that's insulting. Dumb question. I'm not answering beyond that."
Meanwhile, Sen. Raymond Lesniak said in a statement that he believes the state's top court "will quickly provide gay couples the right to marry."