A petition in New Jersey signed by more than 2,300 Democratic officials, advocates and residents has helped sway members of the State Senate Judiciary Committee to call for a vote on a bill to legalizesame-sex marriage.But the bill has a long way to go, and recent votes against same-sex marriage in a Maine referendum and in the New York State Senate led opponents of the New Jersey measure to say that the political tide had turned against it.
Still, Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, a Democrat from Union County, said the petition, initiated by a small group of New Jersey Democrats, produced a strong “momentum change” for the bill after it had appeared to be stalled in recent weeks. Many prominent officials signed the petition, including Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark; Ronald K. Chen, the state’s public advocate; and J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, senior counsel to the New Jersey public advocate.
Mr. Lesniak is a member of the Judiciary Committee, which plans to vote on the bill on Monday. A large turnout for the vote is expected by those on both sides of the issue; gay couples are planning to testify about what they believe are shortcomings in the state’s civil union law, which was passed in 2006.
Mr. Lesniak predicted that the Judiciary Committee would pass the bill. The full Senate would probably consider the measure on Thursday, and Mr. Lesniak said the vote would be close. The Senate and the Assembly — where the bill is still in committee and no vote has been scheduled — are controlled by Democrats, but some do not support same-sex marriage, so Republican votes would be needed.
The timing is important because the current governor, Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, supports same-sex marriage, while Christopher J. Christie, a Republican who will assume the office on Jan. 19, opposes it.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat from Princeton who sponsored the bill in his chamber, said support had ebbed and flowed in recent weeks.
“Once people get over the election and what happened in New York,” he said, “I think it’s a matter of doing the right thing, and more members, as time progresses, will become less skittish.”
Senator Loretta Weinberg of Bergen County, Mr. Corzine’s running mate in the November election, said her colleagues should not fear for their jobs if they support the bill, which she sponsored.
“I understand some of our legislators have profound religious feelings about this, and I respect that,” she said. “I have less patience with those who somehow perceive there is a risk in voting for this. There is no risk.”
Mr. Gusciora said a same-sex marriage measure had a better chance of passing than it did in New York. “New York is two different states, New York City and upstate New York,” he said. “We’re still the progressive suburbs of Philadelphia and New York City. I believe we’re a more progressive state.”
Still, opponents are mobilizing to block the measure. The New Jersey Catholic Conference helped deliver about 156,000 signatures asking legislators to enforce the civil union law instead of approving same-sex marriage.
Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, a research group, said his organization believed it would be wrong to change the definition of marriage to aid what it said was a tiny portion of the state’s population, based on the 8,340 people in civil unions out of a population of 8.6 million.
“In 31 of 31 states, with Maine being the most recent, people have decided that marriage should remain the union of one man and one woman,” Mr. Deo said.
Mr. Gusciora said some Republicans had said they would support the bill. And Mr. Lesniak said: “Those who are opposed to this are not hateful, but they give safe haven to people who are hateful. If we pass this law, those people who are bigots, who are homophobes, will no longer have that safe haven.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 8, 2009
An article on Saturday about the scheduling of a vote by the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee on a same-sex marriage bill after a petition campaign referred incompletely to the petition, using information from the bill’s advocates. Although it was eventually circulated by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal advocacy group based in Washington, the effort was initiated by a small group of New Jersey Democrats. The article also gave an outdated title for J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, one of the petition signers. He is now senior counsel to the New Jersey public advocate; he is no longer director of the state’s Division on Civil Rights.