A bill which would legalise gay marriage in New Jersey failed in the state Senate yesterday.

It was defeated by 20-14 votes.

The vote was a last-ditch bid to push the bill through before new governor Chris Christie takes office later this month. He has said he does not support marriage for same-sex couples.

A vote in December was delayed because supporting senators did not believe the bill had enough votes to pass.

Current governor Jim Corzine said he was “deeply disappointed” the bill did not pass.

Gay rights advocates are already planning a legal challenge against the decision.

Lambda Legal said it would work with Garden State Equality to fight for full marriage rights.

New Jersey legalised civil unions for gay couples after the state’s Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that gay couples must be granted all the rights of marriage.

But gay rights campaigners argue they are not adequate, saying that many employees in hospitals and insurance companies do not understand the concept.

Kevin Cathcart, executive director at Lambda Legal, said: “The requirement to ensure equality for same-sex couples, established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in its decision in our marriage lawsuit in 2006, has not been met.

“There is enormous, heartbreaking evidence that civil unions are not equal to marriage, and we will be going back to the courts in New Jersey to fight for equality. Too many families are at risk. We cannot wait any longer.”