By a vote of 24-16, the bill garnered bipartisan support with two Republicans voting in its favor; the Senate chamber broke out in applause and hugs from supporters as the legislation passed. It was a larger majority than had been expected by the bill’s backers.
Monday’s vote contrasts sharply with the previous vote on marriage equality taken in the state legislature.
In January 2010, gay marriage supporters thought they had built a narrow majority in the Senate, but senators, including Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) began to defect, and the measure was defeated 20-14.
The vote came in the last days of the term of Governor Jon Corzine, who had promised to sign the bill if it passed.
In June 2011, Sweeney apologized in a speech on the Senate floor voting against the bill, calling it “the biggest mistake of my legislative career.”
Now, with Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, in office, the bill faces even greater hurdles — Christie has vowed to veto the bill if it reached his desk, and instead said that gay marriage should be decided by the voters.
“I think this is not an issue that should rest solely in my hands, or the hands of the Senate President or the Speaker or the other 118 members of the Legislature,” Christie said at a town hall meeting last month. “Let’s let the people of New Jersey decide what is right for the state.”
Sweeney, now one of the measure’s Democratic sponsors, said civil rights issues like the right to marry are guaranteed under the state’s constitution and do not require a public vote.
“Civil rights is not to be placed on the ballot. It’s to be voted on by the people in this house,” Sweeney said.
If Christie does veto the bill, proponents will have until the end of the legislative session — January 2014 — to garner the necessary support to override his veto, which would require 27 votes in the Senate and 54 votes in the Assembly.