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TRENTON, N.J. (RNS) The New Jersey state Senate on Thursday (Jan. 7) voted down a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, prompting a promise from gay-rights advocates to take their campaign to the courts.
The final tally, 20-14 with three abstentions, reflects a dramatic shift in the state’s political landscape since gay-marriage supporter Gov. Jon Corzine lost his bid for re-election to Republican Chris Christie in November.
Christie came out strongly against the bill, emboldening opponents of same-sex marriage and drawing undecided senators to the Republican fold. He has also said he would veto a same-sex marriage bill if it ever reached his desk.
Steven Goldstein, who led the push for gay marriage as chairman of the gay-rights group Garden State Equality, said he and other advocates would move swiftly to force the issue in the courts.
“We are not waiting out the term of any new administration to bring equality to same-sex couples in our state,” Goldstein said, contending that the legislature “defaulted on its constitutional obligation” to give same-sex couples equal protections.
He said under the state’s civil union law, which lawmakers enacted in 2006 in response to a court ruling, same-sex partners continue to be denied health benefits and are still frequently barred from making medical decisions on behalf of their loved ones.
State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, a key adviser to Christie, said the debate “opened his eyes” to flaws in the civil union law but he remained committed to his view that “the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman ought to hold.”
The debate, while polite and decorous, swiftly grew emotional.
Senators matched the rhetoric to the occasion, citing the great battles over religious freedom, segregation and women’s voting rights.
State Sen. Ray Lesniak, one of the bill’s chief Democratic sponsors, drew on his service in the U.S. Army, saying he had served with gay soldiers “who put their lives on the line to protect our liberties and civil rights.”
“We served alongside American heroes who had to hide and deny their sexuality in order to fight for the freedoms and liberties we have today,” he said.
The bill’s opponents said the issue should be decided by the public in a referendum and that the civil union law, while flawed, can be fixed.
“There are many problems, but for each of those problems, there is a solution if we put our minds to it, and there is a solution without doing violence to marriage,” state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, a Republican, said.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa and soon the District of Columbia remain the only states to allow gay marriage.

— Mark Mueller
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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