TRENTON -- A state Senate vote on legalizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey has been delayed, its two prime sponsors said today.
Sens. Ray Lesniak (D-Union) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said the bill -- which was up for passage on Thursday -- instead will likely be introduced in the Assembly Judiciary Committee in preparation for a vote by the lower house
Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) has agreed to postpone the vote until the Assembly Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the measure.
While disappointed the vote was delayed, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) said it was a good thing that more members of the public would be able to have their say as the lower house debates the issue.
Roberts, an outspoken supporter of the legislation, added that no hearing has been scheduled as of yet and the bill is still being discussed within his caucus.
“At this point, this much is clear -- our civil union law has failed to live up to even the most modest of hopes and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children,” Roberts said in a statement.
Lesniak said he still expects a vote on same-sex marriage in both houses before the end of the lame-duck legislative session in January. Advocates are pushing for passage of the bill before Gov. Jon Corzine leaves office Jan. 19. Corzine supports the measure, while incoming Gov. Chris Christie says he will veto it.
While even proponents conceded this week that passage was in doubt, Lesniak and Weinberg said they were not postponing the debate because they lacked the 21 votes to succeed in the Senate. They said they want Assembly members to engage in the public dialogue and hear the testimony from both sides that senators already have been exposed to.
"We think this is the fairest way to proceed, and anybody on the other side can say whatever they want to say," Weinberg said.
Lawmakers said phones in their district offices continued to ring off the hook this week, with in-state and out-of-state opponents and advocates burning up the lines of Democratics senators committed to opposing gay marriage.
"Most of us have spent the last week, even just alone in our district offices fielding questions and speaking to folks, advocates and detractors of the gay marriage bill about this issue," said Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May), who said he will vote against the bill.
"But 99 percent of our attention should be turned towards creating a state government that works, figuring how in God's name we're going be able to balance the budget next year."