TRENTON –– New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Feb. 17 made good on his pledge to veto a bill legalizing same-sex marriage passed by the state Legislature but at the same time said he might name an ombudsman to make sure the state’s current law recognizing civil unions is respected.

chris-cristieNew Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appears on “Meet the Press” in Washington Jan. 22. The Catholic governor, as he had promised to do, quickly vetoed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state Feb. 17 and renewed his call for a ballot question to deci de the issue. The measure went to his desk after the state Assembly passed it Feb. 16, three days after the state Senate approved it. (CNS photo/William B. Plowman, courtesy NBC)The state Assembly passed the bill Feb. 16 with a 42-33 vote. The state Senate approved it 24-16 Feb. 13.

When the bill reached his desk and he vetoed it, Christie said in a statement that “same-sex couples in a civil union deserve the very same rights and benefits enjoyed by married couples –– as well as the strict enforcement of those rights and benefits.”

“Discrimination should not be tolerated and any complaint alleging a violation of a citizen’s right should be investigated and, if appropriate, remedied,” the Republican governor said, suggesting an ombudsman be appointed.

As the same-sex marriage measure moved through the Legislature, Christie, a Catholic, said legalizing marriage for same-sex couples should be put on the November ballot for voters to decide the issue.

In testimony at a Jan. 24 hearing, the executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference urged state lawmakers “to continue to recognize marriage as a union between one man and one woman. This is critical as marriage is the foundation of the family. The family, in turn, is the basic unit of society.”

“Marriage as a union of one man and one woman has its roots not only in human tradition and history, but also in natural law, which transcends all man-made law,” said Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the conference, which is the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops.

“Marriage is a natural institution,” he said. “New Jersey, like other states, has from the beginning recognized marriage, honored it, and sought to support and protect it.”

He also said while the Catholic Church opposes legalizing marriage for same-sex couples, it teaches that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”

“The fundamental human rights of homosexuals must be defended and we must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice against homosexual persons,” Brannigan said.

He noted that many supporters of same-sex marriage claim that the civil unions law “is not working,” but that the state’s Division of Civil Rights found that out of a total of 13 complaints filed since 2007, when the law was passed, authorities had found “probable cause” in only one of those complaints.

Brannigan also said couples in civil unions claim they are not able to participate in their partner’s health care decisions, but he said the law guarantees they can, noting that Catholic-run health care facilities specifically allow individuals to designate “anyone they wish as a health care decision-maker.”

Supporters of same-sex marriage criticized Christie’s proposal to appoint an ombudsman to make sure the civil unions law is being upheld properly, saying that it is not an acceptable substitute for marriage for same-sex couples.

“It’s not equal. It’s not the same,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, told reporters. He and other advocates of legalizing same-sex marriage say it is a civil right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The bill as passed by the Legislature included an exemption for religious leaders, churches and faith-based organizations so they could not be forced to perform marriage for same-sex couples or allow such couples the use of their facilities.

In Maryland, the House of Delegates Feb. 17 passed a measure to legalize same-sex marriage in that state. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee was expected to pass the House version Feb. 21 and advance it to the full Senate for consideration later in the week.