New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) argued that he is offering activists of marriage equality “the bargain of your life” by advocating that the legislature pass a bill asking residents to vote on the right of gay and lesbian people to marry. Speaking at a town hall in Denville on Thursday morning, Christie reiterated his pledge to veto any measure expanding marriage rights, but announced that he has asked Republicans in the legislature to support a popular referendum on the issue:
CHRISTIE: If the majority of the people want [same-sex marriage] prove it. Put it on the ballot, let it be voted on….I’ve told every Republican in the state legislator to vote to put it on the ballot. They need three-fifths to put it on the ballot. The Republicans have two-fifths in the legislature. So that means the Democrats only need to come up with one-fifth of the legislature…this is the bargain of your life. I’m giving you two-fifths! And the polls they show me say that if it goes on the ballot, it will lose. How much more magnanimous can I be? What else do you want me to do? Go campaign for it too? Look, I’m doing the best I can here!
Earlier this week, Christie apologized for comparing a referendum for same-sex marriage to the Civil Rights movement and suggesting that African Americans would have been better off if the public could have voted to end segregation and discrimination. Christie’s remarks triggered a strong backlash from African-American leaders, such as Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who suggested Christie “has not read his recent history books” and pointed out that “most of the governors…were outright segregationists.” Newark Mayor Cory Booker responded simply: “Frankly, I wouldn’t be where I am today” if states had voted on civil rights.
Yesterday, the Judiciary Committee of the New Jersey General Assembly voted 5-2 to advance marriage equality legislation and a full Senate vote is scheduled for Tuesday, February 13. State Senate President Steve Sweeney also reiterated his opposition to extending fundamental rights through popular vote. “It’s time for everyone, from the governor to the chattering observers, to stop talking about a marriage equality referendum in terms of ‘if,’” Sweeney said “There will be no referendum on marriage equality in New Jersey, period.”