NJ vote on gay marriage could shape battles ahead

Wed Dec 9, 2009 5:45pm EST
 
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By Ellen Wulfhorst

TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - The legalization of same-sex marriage faces a critical test in New Jersey, where advocates on each side of the controversial issue argue will shape the fate of gay-marriage battles across the nation.

New Jersey could be poised to join five other U.S. states that allow gay couples to wed, if the proposal to legalize gay marriage passes a vote in the state Senate.

That vote was postponed indefinitely on Wednesday at the request of the bill's sponsors so that the state Assembly Judiciary Committee could first hold a hearing on the matter. A new date for the vote has not yet been set.

"The public needs another opportunity to engage legislators on this issue," said state Senator Loretta Weinberg, a sponsor, in a statement. The state Senate Judiciary committee heard seven hours of public testimony earlier this week before narrowly approving the measure for a full Senate vote.

Advocates hope to pass the bill in the legislature so Governor Jon Corzine, a supporter, can sign it into law before leaving office next month. Incoming Republican Chris Christie, who defeated Corzine in November, has said he would veto it.

Opponents say they are "nervously optimistic" that lawmakers will not vote for the bill, as happened in neighboring New York last week. And they hope its defeat in New Jersey will end efforts to promote gay marriage nationally for some time.

"If New Jersey rejects gay marriage, this is the last hope the gay marriage movement has of legislatively approving gay marriage any time in the foreseeable future," said Maggie Gallagher, head of the National Organization for Marriage. "It's an important vote."

Five U.S. states have legalized gay marriage -- Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Another 40 states have specific laws banning it. Last month voters in Maine repealed a gay marriage law.   Continued...