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New Jersey Senate rejects gay-marriage bill

In another loss for gay-rights advocates, New Jersey senators voted against a bill Thursday that would have made their state the sixth to permit same-sex marriages.

The 20-to-14 vote ends a push to legalize gay marriage in the Garden State before Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, a same-sex marriage supporter, leaves office on Jan. 19. His replacement, Republican Chris Christie, opposes gay marriage. The bill's failure, which many had expected, means that gay marriage is unlikely to become legal anytime soon in New Jersey.

The vote comes a month after New York senators rejected a similar measure. Voters in Maine overturned a gay marriage law last November. Gay-rights advocates worried that the Maine vote, which made it the 31st state to reject same-sex marriage at the polls, would blunt their momentum after Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire legalized gay marriage in 2009.

New Jersey legislators were the focus of intense lobbying efforts by groups on both sides of the issue as the state became the new focal point in a national battle over gay marriage. The National Organization for Marriage, based in New Jersey, spent more than $600,000 on its “Don’t Mess with Marriage” radio and television campaign. Hundreds of supporters and opponents of the bill turned out at the Trenton, N.J., statehouse to await the results of the vote.

In a vigorous debate on the Senate floor that preceded Thursday’s vote, the bill's opponents said the traditional definition of marriage should not be altered. New Jersey’s 2006 civil unions law already extends rights conferred by marriage - such as custody, property, and divorce rights - to gay and lesbian couples, they noted.

Others opponents of the bill argued that the question of legalizing gay marriage should be decided in a referendum. Sen. John Girgenti (D) said the gay marriage question "strikes at the heart of our society and how we define who we are" and that such a major shift "needs to be digested by the public."

Supporters of the measure to legalize gay marriage equated the plight of unmarried same-sex couples to the civil rights movement.

“Just because this is not a racial injustice does not mean it is not a civil rights injustice,” said Sen. Nia Gill (D). “Let these same-sex couples be full participants in our state.”

While Senator Gill acknowledged that the state recognized the rights of gay and lesbian couples when it passed the civil unions law, she said same-sex couples in those relationships are still unable to get many of the same insurance benefits as married couples.

Many speculated before Thursday’s debate that supporters of the bill didn’t have enough votes to pass it in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The state Assembly would have taken up the measure Monday if the Senate had approved the bill.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D), who cosponsored the bill, said she was “looking forward to the day when New Jersey recognizes the marriage of same-sex loving couples.”

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