* New Jersey governor's veto unlikely to be overridden
* Maryland House of Delegates approves gay marriage bill
* Maryland governor: 'Love is an inalienable right'
By Alice Popovici
Feb 17 Republican Governor Chris Christie
on Friday vetoed a bill to make New Jersey the latest U.S. state
to legalize gay marriage, but hours later a similar measure
advanced by a razor-thin margin in Maryland and appeared
destined to become law.
Christie, a rising star in the U.S. Republican Party,
accompanied his veto with a call for lawmakers in the state
capital Trenton to appoint an advocate for same-sex couples
under the state's existing civil union law.
The Democratic-controlled New Jersey legislature does not
appear to have the votes to override Christie's veto.
In Maryland's capital Annapolis, the House of Delegates
voted 72 to 67 to approve legislation to allow gay marriage,
prompting cheers from a packed chamber gallery after two hours
of often impassioned debate. The bill heads to the state Senate,
which last year approved similar legislation and is widely
expected to do so again.
Maryland Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley supports gay
marriage and would sign the bill into law.
"Today, the House of Delegates voted for dignity," O'Malley
posted on Twitter. He later added in another tweet, "Love is an
Seven of the 50 U.S. states have legalized gay marriage -
New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire,
Iowa and Washington state, as did Washington, D.C. The gay
marriage law in Washington state has not yet taken effect.
This week's dramatic battles in New Jersey and Maryland
brought an even greater focus to the national debate over
Already a contentious social issue, gay marriage has gained
more prominence ahead of the Nov. 6 U.S. presidential election,
with advocates framing it as a civil rights issue and opponents
saying marriage should be reserved for unions between a man and
Christie, a supporter of Republican presidential hopeful
Mitt Romney who is often mentioned as a potential vice
presidential candidate, has called for voters in New Jersey to
decide the issue. No U.S. state has ever approved same-sex
marriage in a referendum.
Christie made no secret of his plans to veto the measure and
followed through the day after it won full legislative approval.
He asked lawmakers to quit pursuing gay marriage legislation
and instead create an ombudsman for civil unions of same-sex
couples who would "carry on New Jersey's strong tradition of
tolerance and fairness."
"The ombudsman will be charged with increasing awareness of
the law regarding civil unions, will provide a clear point of
contact for those who have questions or concerns and will be
required to report any evidence of the law being violated. In
this way, we can ensure equal treatment under the law," Christie
said in a statement.
Democrats do not currently appear to have enough votes to
override the veto with the necessary two-thirds majority, though
they have until the end of 2013 to try.
"When we look back in the annals of history, unfortunately,
the governor will see that he was on the wrong side of justice,"
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat, said in a statement.
"All the couples disappointed by his action today should take
solace in the fact that we are not giving up this fight."
In Maryland, O'Malley lobbied aggressively for the bill this
week. One of his chief tasks was to sway black lawmakers, many
of whom were hesitant to back an issue opposed by much of the
state's black clergy.
The debate over legalizing gay marriage shows no sign of
abating in other states.
In Washington, Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law
on Monday legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, but it will
not take effect until at least June. Opponents are working to
gather signatures for a ballot initiative in November that would
block the legislation.
In California, a federal appeals court earlier this month
overturned that state's gay marriage ban, enacted through a 2008
ballot initiative. That sets up a possible showdown in the U.S.
Supreme Court over the matter.
U.S. federal law defines marriage as between one man and one
woman, but the administration of President Barack Obama has
chosen not to defend the law in court.