New Jersey's Democratic-majority state Senate approved a same-sex marriage bill today, but Republican Governor Chris Christie has promised to veto it.
The state Assembly was expected to approve the measure on Thursday and send it to Christie, one of the country's leading Republicans and a possible vice-presidential candidate.
The state's Democratic leadership, which controls both houses of the state legislature, has made gay marriage a top priority this session, saying New Jersey's civil union law does not adequately protect same-sex couples.
Though the bill had majority support in the Democratic-controlled state legislature, it was unlikely to have the two-thirds majority needed to override Christie's promised veto.
"The word marriage is society's universal civil and legal acknowledgment of a loving relationship," Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the bill's sponsor, said during the debate. "It's time for New Jersey to get on the right side of history and enact true marriage equality for every one of our residents."
In a tacit acknowledgment of how long the fight might continue, she added, "With enough votes, in the future, we can override the governor's veto."
The New Jersey Senate vote, which was 24 to 16, comes on the same day Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire was expected to sign a bill making Washington the seventh U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Gay marriage is already allowed in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont plus the District of Columbia.
A Gallup poll last year found for the first time a majority of Americans believe gay marriage should be legalized, with 53 percent in favor.
New Jersey's high court ruled in 2006 same-sex couples must be guaranteed the same rights as heterosexual married couples but left it up to the legislature to write the law. The legislature approved a civil unions law for same-sex couples later that year.
Gay couples argued the state had created a two-tier system that was inherently unequal.
A new lawsuit, which challenges New Jersey's civil union law, is pending.