New Jersey senate OKs gay marriage bill
Trenton - New Jersey lawmakers gave their blessing to legalising gay marriage for the first time on Monday as the state Senate passed a bill that would allow nuptials for same-sex couples. Governor Chris Christie has said he will veto such legislation.
The Senate's vote sends the bill to the Assembly, which is expected to pass it on Thursday.
"It means the world isn't changing, it means the world has already changed," said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, the state's largest gay rights organisation. "So wake up and smell the equality."
Six states and Washington, DC, allow gay marriage, and Washington state will join that list when Governor Christine Gregoire signs legislation legalising same-sex marriage on Monday.
New Jersey's governor, a Republican, announced his veto intentions last month.
Len Deo, president of New Jersey Family Policy Council, which opposes gay marriage, called the vote "an exercise in futility".
The governor has said he does not believe marriage laws should be changed, but he does support New Jersey's civil union law, which grants gay couples the legal protections of marriage.
Christie said he wants to put a change in the definition of marriage to a public vote.
But gay rights groups oppose a referendum. They see gay marriage as a civil rights matter and argue that it should not be up to the masses to protect the rights of a minority group.
Five years ago, New Jersey's state Supreme Court ruled that gay couples should have the same rights as married heterosexual couples. In response, the Legislature created civil unions.
Gay rights advocates say that because the civil union designation is hard to understand and still treats committed gays differently from married couples, the courts should eliminate civil unions and recognise gay marriage.
A lawsuit seeking to do that is in the state court system.