UPDATE 1-New Jersey makes last-minute bid for gay marriage

Tue Jan 5, 2010 4:56pm EST

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NEW YORK Jan 5 (Reuters) - New Jersey's state Senate will vote on legalizing same-sex marriage this week, officials announced on Tuesday, in a race against the clock before a new governor who opposes the measure takes office.

If it passes the Senate, the measure must be approved by the state Assembly before it could be signed into law by outgoing Democratic Governor Jon Corzine, a supporter. Both houses are controlled by Democrats.

"Given the intensely personal nature of this issue, I think the people of this state deserve the right to a formal debate on the Senate floor," said Senate president Richard Codey.

Incoming Republican Governor Chris Christie, who defeated Corzine in November and takes office on Jan. 19, has said he would veto the measure if it came before him.

The outcome is uncertain, but local media reported on Tuesday that backers of the bill do not have the 21 votes necessary to win Senate passage.

Christie's victory in November has made some lawmakers wary of supporting the controversial measure, and little time remains to convince legislators whose votes are unknown or undecided, observers say.

If the bill fails in the Senate, the proposal could lie dormant for several years.

A Senate vote was canceled last month after it appeared the bill would not pass. The Senate judiciary committee had approved it earlier in December.

Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont have legalized same sex marriage. Another 40 states have specific laws banning it.

New Jersey recognizes same-sex civil unions, designed to give gay couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. But advocates of gay marriage say this does not go far enough. (Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Alan Elsner)

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