The majority of New Jersey residents are in favor of Gov. Chris Christie's suggestion to send a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage currently on the Senate floor to a referendum on the November ballot, according to a new poll from Kean University.
The poll found that 57 percent of New Jersey residents are in favor of sending the bill to referendum while only 32 percent oppose the measure. The poll's directors say the overwhelming majority is caused by citizens on both sides of the issue believing they have a good chance of winning if it comes to a popular vote.
The Kean poll would suggest, however, that those in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage would stand to benefit most from a referendum. When asked if they "favor or oppose same sex marriage," 48 percent of those polled were in favor while 32 percent were opposed.
Experts caution that the Kean poll did not ask citizens if they would vote for same-sex marriage, only if they support the concept of such unions.
Proponents of legalizing same-sex marriage might also welcome a referendum considering that Christie, a Republican who has stated his opposition to same-sex marriage several times, vowed to veto the bill if it reached his desk. In addition, the governor himself is leading the call for a referendum on the issue.
Gay rights advocates say same-sex marriage is a civil issue and that civil issues should be decided by legislatures, not the constituency.
Of course, the referendum issue will only come up if both the New Jersey Senate and Assembly pass the bill next week.
The Senate is scheduled to take up the vote on the "Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act," as the bill is called, on Monday. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who voted against a similar bill that was ultimately defeated two years ago, says this time he will vote in favor of the bill and believes there are the necessary 21 votes to approve the measure.
If approved, the Assembly will vote on Wednesday, where same-sex marriage proponents are more confident the numbers are in their favor.
The bill's proponents are optimistic about their own measure following the announcement yesterday by the Ninth Circuit Court in California that Proposition 8, which sought to define marriage as a union between "a man and a woman" in California, is unconstitutional. That case will likely head to the Supreme Court, but the high profile ruling may influence voters and New Jersey legislators.
In the wake of the Prop 8 ruling, New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, who is openly gay, said Prop 8 is a sign that "a referendum on the rights of minorities in this state is not only wrong, but unnecessary because these rights are already guaranteed in the Constitution."
"This is an affirmation of true equality, but more importantly, it's an affirmation that the proper path to equal rights for same-sex couples in New Jersey is through the legislature, lest we subject our state to the type of costly and divisive campaign California underwent in 2008," Gusciora said in a statement.
In calling for a referendum, Gov. Christie has said it is best to let the people decide and called out supporters of the same-sex marriage bill by saying if there is so much support for legalization, then the voters will surely vote in the measure.
"Let's make sure that political maneuvering is not what judges this and let's make sure this is not someone just trying to have fun and create a campaign issue," Christie said. "The institution of marriage is too serious to be treated like a political football."
Six states and Washington D.C. currently allow gay marriage. Several other states, including Maryland and Maine, are considering similar legislation this year. On Wednesday, Washington lawmakers passed a gay marriage bill that Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire has vowed to sign -- which would make Washington the seventh state to allow same-sex marriage.