New Jersey Senate Defeats Gay Marriage Bill

The New Jersey Senate voted Thursday against legalizing same-sex marriage, making the Garden State the latest to turn down legislation that proponents have called a civil rights issue.

The Freedom of Religion and Equality in Marriage Act failed by a vote of 20 to 14. The vote was scheduled to take place last month, but was postponed due to an apparent lack of support, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

New Jersey voters are narrowly divided on the issue, with gay marriage opponents finding more support by a 49-46 percentage point margin, according to a November poll from Quinnipiac University. State Democrats favor the measure 60-34, while Republicans oppose it 69-25, the poll found. The margin of error was 2.4 percentage points.

Five states currently allow same sex marriage, while thirty have rejected similar measures in referendum votes. The state senate in neighboring New York, where many New Jersey residents work, rejected a gay marriage bill 38 to 24 in December.

New Jersey currently allows same-sex civil unions, which accords adoption rights among other privileges.

“They're still not happy. They want to dilute marriage," Rabbi Yehuda Levin of the Rabbinical Alliance of America told the Newark Star-Ledger prior to the vote.

Activist groups say civil unions are a poor substitute for marriage.

“If New Jersey’s civil union law were a person, it would be arrested for committing fraud,” reads a message on the Web site of Garden State Equality, a gay marriage advocacy group. “Civil unions will never achieve the acceptance and equality of marriage.”

Proponents of the bill hoped to have it passed before Democratic Governor Jon Corzine, who supports the measure, leaves office.

Governor-elect Chris Christie, a Republican, had vowed to veto the legislation if it passed. Christie takes office Jan. 19.