A bill which would allow gay marriage in New Jersey has passed a Senate Judiciary Committee vote 7-6.

The vote was taken yesterday and the bill is scheduled for a full Senate vote on Thursday.

The state currently offers civil unions but if passed, this bill would make New Jersey the sixth US state where gay marriage is legal.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa and Vermont give gay couples the right to marry.

The right was withdrawn in California last year and a bill failed in New York last week. Voters repealed the right in Maine last month.

Senate supporters in New Jersey were unwilling to vote on the bill before they believed it had enough votes to pass.

Governor Jon Corzine has said he will support gay marriage, although governor-elect Chris Christie, who takes office next month, has said he will veto the bill.

In September, Republican politicians in New Jersey called for a constitutional amendment in 2010 to allow voters to decide whether gay marriage should be legal.

If successful, the move would see the issue on the November 2010 ballot, with voters being asked whether they favoured a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

A survey of New Jersey voters last month found that a slim majority were opposed to legalising gay marriage.

The research, carried out by Quinnipiac University, found that 49 per cent of 1,615 voters were opposed, with 46 per cent in favour. The remainder were unsure.