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Governor Chris Christie finally explained today a comment he made last week during the gay marriage debate suggesting that civil rights in the 60's should have been left to a vote of white southerners. At the same time, we have an exclusive report on a surprising development today from several former governors on this gay marriage issue. Brian Thompson reports.
Five former governors of New Jersey are on record supporting gay marriage, while sitting Republican Gov. Chris Christie remains opposed.
Democrats Brendan Byrne and James Florio told NBC New York Monday they endorsed efforts in the Legislature to pass it.
"I think the climate is right on a basis of civil rights," said Byrne, the oldest of the former Garden State governors. "I would ask that the Legislature pass it."
Florio told NBC New York, "I have no difficulties with it."
Tom Kean, one of the two Republicans among the six living former governors, called himself a libertarian on the issue.
"There are already people living together, as good neighbors and good people and contributing to the economy of this state, and I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be able to continue with the blessing of marriage," Kean said.
Former Govs. Jon Corzine and Jim McGreevey are both on record as supporting gay marriage.
Among the six former living elected governors, Republican Christie Todd Whitman has a slightly different take.
Spokeswoman Heather Grizzle told NBC New York that Whitman supports equal rights for gay couples, but described her position as more "nuanced" because she doesn't believe government should be defining who is married.
She said that Whitman believes government should simply issue some sort of document for legal purposes to couples, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual.
Christie, the sitting governor, has long been a staunch opponent of gay marriage, and at a Trenton news conference Monday, he reiterated he would veto the bill if it crossed his desk.
The governor defended his comment last week that civil rights leaders in the '60s "would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South."
He also criticized Democratic Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, who compared that remark to the views espoused by George Wallace and Lester Maddox.
The gay marriage bill that Christie has vowed to veto has already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is next due for a hearing Thursday in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
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