A key New Jersey Senator has said a gay marriage bill will likely not survive out of committee, a move that would postpone gay marriage in the state for at least four years.

Gay marriage backers have called on lawmakers to approve the bill before Governor Jon Corzine leaves office in mid-January.

Corzine lost his bid for a second term as leader of the Garden State to Republican Chris Christie on November 3. During the campaign, Corzine promised the gay community if reelected he would push through – and sign – a gay marriage bill in the Legislature.

The day after the election, gay rights activists mobilized to get the bill approved before Christie, a gay marriage opponent who supports a gay marriage ban, takes office.

But on Friday, Senator Paul Sarlo, who chairs the Judiciary Committee overseeing the bill, poured water on the plan, saying he would not bring up the bill unless enough committee members favored the bill to pass it on to the Senate floor, the AP reported.

“Today, as I stand here, we do not have the votes in the Judiciary Committee,” Sarlo, a Democrat from Wood-Ridge, told reporters.

“Until somebody can demonstrate that we have the votes in the Judiciary Committee, it will not be posted. I'm not going to put people in harm's way where they have to vote 'yes' or 'no' when we don't have the votes to get it out [of the committee],” he added.

A gay marriage bill in nearby New York appears more likely to get a vote in the Senate, where the bill faces its final obstacle to becoming law. But a divided Democratic caucus and virtually zero Republican support for gay nuptials threaten defeat.

Similarly, in New Jersey, the lack of support in the Senate appears to have stalled the bill.

New Jersey currently recognizes gay couples with civil unions, a parallel legal framework to marriage that gay activists have called “not equal.”

A gay marriage defeat now would set aside the issue until 2014, at the earliest.