Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said Tuesday that he would veto a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, and he challenged the State Legislature instead to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.
Democrats, who control the Legislature, swiftly rejected the idea, accusing the governor, a Republican, of trying to punt on a politically sensitive issue.
“Marriage equality isn’t like sports betting,” said Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Union County Democrat, referring to a referendum on an amendment to the State Constitution on gambling last year. “It’s a civil right, which is already guaranteed in our Constitution. It’s up to the Legislature to guarantee these rights.”
The same-sex marriage bill is a priority for Democrats, led by the Senate president, Stephen M. Sweeney, who has said that his decision not to vote on a similar bill two years ago, when there was a Democratic governor who supported same-sex marriage, was “the biggest mistake” of his political career.
Gay-rights advocates had been hoping that Mr. Christie, who supports civil unions over same-sex marriage, might sign the legislation, or, if he vetoed it, give Republican legislators tacit approval to vote for an override.
On Monday, he nominated a gay man to the State Supreme Court, and when asked about the prospects for the marriage bill, said that he would make a decision if and when the bill ever reached his desk.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the same-sex marriage bill, 8-4.
A poll released by Quinnipiac University last week found that 52 percent of New Jersey voters believed that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, and 53 percent believed that denying them that right constituted discrimination.