TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- As expected, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey on Friday.
The state's Legislature gave final approval to the bill on Thursday, with the Assembly voting in favor 42-33. Christie and other Republicans want same-sex marriage to be decided by public vote, but Democrats say it's a civil right protected by the Constitution.
"I am adhering to what I've said since this bill was first introduced -- an issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide," Christie said in a statement. "I continue to encourage the Legislature to trust the people of New Jersey and seek their input by allowing our citizens to vote on a question that represents a profoundly significant societal change. This is the only path to amend our State Constitution and the best way to resolve the issue of same-sex marriage in our state."
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Democrats who had pushed the bill forward said they were disappointed, but not surprised, by Christie's action.
"It's unfortunate that the governor would let his own personal ideology infringe on the rights of thousands of New Jerseyans," said Reed Gusciora, one of two openly gay New Jersey lawmakers and a sponsor of the bill. "For all those who oppose marriage equality, their lives would have been completely unchanged by this bill, but for same-sex couples, their lives would have been radically transformed. Unfortunately, the governor couldn't see past his own personal ambitions to honor this truth."
Senate President Steve Sweeney was more blunt in his criticism of the governor.
"He had a chance to do the right thing, and failed miserably," Sweeney said.
Proponents of the bill said gay marriage is a civil right being denied to gay couples, while opponents said the definition of marriage as a heterosexual institution should not be expanded. The legislation contains a religious opt-out clause, meaning no church clergy would be required to perform gay marriages and places of worship would not have to allow same-sex weddings at their facilities.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of the state's largest gay rights group, Garden State Equality, said Christie's national political ambitions guided his action.
"He won't veto the bill because he's anti-gay," Goldstein said in a statement issued before the veto was issued Friday. "He'll veto the bill because the 2016 South Carolina presidential primary electorate is anti-gay."
Goldstein, who said he has a cordial relationship with the governor, promised to continue fighting him vigorously on the issue. "And we will win, so help me God," he said.
Another gay marriage supporter, Washington state Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, also reached out to Christie, a practicing Catholic. Gregoire sent the governor a letter last month offering to talk about gay marriage because, in her words, "while I am a Governor, I am also a Catholic."
The Roman Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage.
Gregoire signed a gay marriage measure into law in Washington on Monday. Her spokeswoman, Karina Shagren, said Christie hasn't responded to the letter.
Thirty states, including South Carolina, have adopted constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages, most by defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature now has until the end of January 2014 to try to override the governor. They would need to get two-thirds of the lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate to agree. Both votes to pass it fell short of that mark.
The Legislature has been unsuccessful in every previous attempt to override Christie.
Same-sex marriage is legal in six states, including New York and Connecticut.
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