ASBURY PARK - Several national groups that support recognizing same-sex marriage are teaming up in a new way in New Jersey, launching a campaign to override Gov. Chris Christie's veto of a bill that would recognize gay nuptials.
The groups announced the New Jersey United for Marriage campaign Wednesday in Asbury Park, a seaside resort that has become a gay haven, with speeches from couples and clergy who say the state's ban on gay marriage is hurtful for the dignity and finances of gay couples and their children. They say the ban also harms the state's economy because gay-friendly businesses might prefer to open elsewhere.
As of Aug. 1, 13 states across the country will recognize gay marriage, including every one in the Northeast but New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
"We've been committed, domesticated, civilized and even married in the state of New York," said Sue Fulton as she stood next to her wife, Penny Gnesin at the rally. But the marriage doesn't carry legal weight in their state, she said.
"Together we're stronger, together we're bigger, together we'll win," said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, New Jersey's largest gay rights organization, which claims 130,000 members.
The groups in the coalition include the ACLU, Lambda Legal, Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, the Gill Action Fund and the American Unity Fund, a Republican group that supports gay marriage.
Many of the organizations have been active in New Jersey in the past through political organizing, legal work or fundraising. But organizers say the level of coordination is new. The effort is similar to ones that have pushed for gay marriage to become legal in states including Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota and are working in other states, including Illinois and Oregon.
But each state has its own dynamics. In New Jersey, gay rights advocates are hoping the courts will allow same-sex marriage quickly, even as they continue the political push. And state lawmakers already have adopted a bill to recognize same-sex marriage here, but Christie vetoed it last year.
That makes the political fight not one for a ballot measure or even support of many lawmakers, but rather one designed primarily to pressure a handful of lawmakers - mostly Republicans - to turn against Christie on this issue. Lawmakers have until the end of the legislative session in January to override the veto.
Stevenson, who would not say how much the coalition's budget might be, said legislators have promised a vote as soon as there is enough support to override the veto.
Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, which campaigns against allowing gay marriage in the states, said New Jersey will be a battleground this year for his side, too. He said the main tactic of his opponents on the left is to promise lawmakers campaign contributions for voting to allow gay marriage.
"We know that politicians, if they're promised enough money, some are willing to betray their constituents and their own consciences," Brown said.
But, he said, that has not worked out well for Republicans who have changed their minds, with several losing primaries. "It's not going to buy elections in New Jersey," Brown said.
The gay marriage fight also extends to the New Jersey courts.
Couples sued two years ago, claiming that civil unions fail to deliver the equality that they promised. But the case has been fast-tracked after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month that invalidated key parts of a federal law banning gay marriage. The couples argue the state is now keeping them from receiving equal benefits from the federal government. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for Aug. 15.