Gov. Chris Christie on Friday vetoed a bill that would allow same-sex couples to wed. He said he wants the issue to be decided by a statewide referendum.

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Gov. Chris Christie on Friday vetoed the bill

General Assembly OK'd the bill Thursday; Senate approved the measure Monday

Polling suggests New Jersey voters are slightly in favor of legalizing such marriages

CNN  — 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday vetoed a bill that would allow same-sex couples to wed, setting up a confrontation with a Democrat-controlled legislature that has vowed to eventually get the bill into law.

The General Assembly on Thursday passed the measure, which the Senate had approved Monday.

Lawmakers have until the legislative session ends in January 2014 to override Christie’s veto. They would need a two-thirds majority in both houses to succeed.

Christie, the subject of speculation as a possible GOP vice presidential candidate, has said the issue “should not be decided by 121 people in the statehouse in Trenton.”

He has advocated putting the issue to a referendum.

“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,” Christie said in a statement. “I have been just as adamant 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.”

Recent polling, meanwhile, suggests that New Jersey voters are slightly in favor of legalizing such marriages.

Fifty-two percent of state voters approve the measure, the first time the figures have crossed the 50% threshold, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

The study includes a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points.

Gay rights groups, which had expected the governor’s veto, have pledged to override it.

“By vetoing the bill that would ensure that all loving, committed New Jersey couples and their families can share in the freedom to marry, with all its protections and meaning, Governor Christie planted his feet firmly on the wrong side of history, said Evan Wolfson, president of the group Freedom to Marry, which had lobbied in favor of the bill.

New Jersey currently allows for civil unions, which Christie says he supports. With Hawaii and Delaware joining the list last month, five other states currently recognize such unions.

A similar battle is also shaping up in Maryland, where Gov. Martin O’Malley – a Democrat – has pushed for his state to join the seven others that allow same-sex couples to marry. On Friday, the Maryland House of Delegates voted 71-67 to legalize same-sex marriage. But no Senate vote has been set, and opponents of the measure have pressed to take the matter to a statewide referendum.

Washington state, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, New York and the District of Columbia currently allow such marriages.