by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
New Jersey's crucial Senate vote on same-sex marriage, expected on December 10, was called off late Wednesday night as Democrats backing same-sex nuptials realized they were not sure they would get enough votes for the bill to pass.
The bill's sponsors, Sens. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union) and Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen), reportedly asked for the delay in hopes the measure would begin moving through the Assembly, where it is believed to have more solid support.
The Senate is seen as the biggest hurdle for the same-sex marriage bill. Several Democrats have come out in opposition to the measure, while others have remained publicly unsure, ultimately raising questions about its fate.
"I don't know if we'll ever know if we have the votes until the board is open and people actually cast their votes," Sen. Lesniak said. "I think it's a 50-50 chance. It's a real toss-up."
Steven Goldstein, executive director of Garden State Equality, did not see the maneuvering as a setback. Instead, he says Assembly hearings would give Gay and Lesbian couples another chance to make their case after some did not have the opportunity to speak at a Senate committee vote December 7.
"It's not a setback. & We think it's a good thing," Goldstein said.
N.J. Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex) said he supports the request for a delay in the upper house. "I understand their desire to make sure this bill receives the thorough attention it deserves, and therefore I have agreed to postpone [today's] vote until further notice," he said in a statement on November 10.
The measure's sponsors hope the bill could receive a hearing in the Assembly Judiciary Committee; however, the Assembly is not due back in session until January 7, 2010. As it stands, no Assembly hearing has been scheduled.
Supporters are racing against time. The current Democratic governor, Jon Corzine, backs the bill and has promised to sign it into law, while his replacement from January 19, Republican Chris Christie, says he would veto it. To become law, the bill would have to be approved in full votes by both houses, and then signed by the governor.
New Jersey allows civil unions for Gay couples; critics say the unions have failed to give Gay couples the same protections offered by marriages. Gay and Lesbian couples in New Jersey say they have been denied access to their partners in hospitals and benefits such as health insurance under civil unions.
Gay marriage has taken a political rollercoaster ride in 2009.
Last week, the state assembly in neighboring New York overwhelmingly rejected a Gay marriage bill. Earlier this year, a referendum in Maine repealed the local government's approval of same-sex marriage rights, as happened in California and Hawaii in the past.
Gay marriage has been defeated each of the 31 times it has been put before state voters at the ballot box.
Still, many Gay advocates say 2009 was a year of victories. Gay marriage became legal in Vermont and Iowa this year, and takes effect January 1, 2010 in New Hampshire.
In the District of Columbia, a city council vote on same-sex marriage is set for next week.
Currently, only five states, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire allow Gay marriage - while 40 out of the 50 states have constitutional amendments to outlaw same-sex marriage.
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