Senators voted 20-14 against same-sex marriage after 90 minutes of debate, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported. Three Democrats abstained, and two Republicans were not present for the vote.
Garden State Equality, which has been lobbying hard for the bill, said the next step is another court challenge. In 2006, the state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that New Jersey must provide gays with the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples but did not have to call the unions marriages.
Christi Sturmont, one of hundreds of people who assembled in front of the Statehouse after the Senate vote, said she and her partner would settle for a civil union if the new litigation fails.
"We were holding out hope that we'd be able to get married and have full citizenship," she said. "But now we'll have to settle for second-class citizenship. For now. We're not done fighting."
Lame duck Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, had said he would sign the legislation. Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie has said he would veto it.