Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie says if he wins next month, he'll do all he can to block the state from allowing gay marriage -- possibly even pushing to amend the state constitution.
"If you're going to make that type of groundbreaking societal change, people should get the chance to vote on it,'' he said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press.
New Jersey has been one of the central battlegrounds over the past half-dozen years as gay rights advocates have won expanded legal recognition for same-sex couples.
Since 2007, the state has offered civil unions to gay couples, which gives them the same state-granted legal benefits as married couples but stops short of calling them "married.''
For people on both sides of the issue, the distinction between marriage and civil unions is enormous. Supporters of gay marriage say civil unions don't do enough to give them equal rights; opponents say allowing gays to marriage would undermine a fundamental element of society.
Both sides are ramping up campaigns to frame the issue as one that Garden State voters should consider next month.
Christie says he supports civil unions.
Gov. Jon Corzine, who is seeking re-election, has said he wants to sign a bill to recognize gay marriage. It would put New Jersey in a small group of states that consider gay marriage legal.
State courts in Massachusetts, Iowa and Connecticut have forced recognition of the marriages there. The only states that currently have laws to allow them are Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
Maine's is on hold pending a vote next month; New Hampshire's law is to take effect Jan. 1.
In New Jersey, advocates of gay marriage are pushing sympathetic lawmakers to take up their cause after the Nov. 3 election.
Opponents of gay marriage have long been pushing New Jersey to join the 29 states that have constitutional amendments barring gay marriage, but it's never gained much traction in the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats who support gay marriage.
Across the country, voters have approved every such amendment that has ever been put on a statewide ballot.
To amend New Jersey's constitution, the Legislature would have to approve putting the change on a ballot and voters would have to approve it.
Christie says that if he wins and then gay marriage becomes law, he would support the amendment.
If the late-year push to legalize gay marriage falls short, he says no amendment would be needed. In that case, he said, he would veto any pro-gay-marriage law that would come to his desk.