A much-anticipated gay marriage vote in the New Jersey Senate scheduled for Thursday has been postponed.

The bill is being rerouted to the Assembly, instead, its sponsors said late Wednesday.

The sponsors, Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Loretta Weinberg, both Democrats, said they wanted the bill to receive a hearing in the General Assembly before the full Senate voted.

Debate on the bill came as an unexpected surprise to gay marriage advocates, who have been pressuring lawmakers to approve the bill before Governor-elect Chris Christie, a Republican opposed to gay marriage, takes office in mid-January. Governor Jon Corzine has publicly backed the bill.

But the bill barely managed to limp out of a Monday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, which included more than 7 hours of testimony from opponents and proponents of gay marriage, by one vote.

Opponents of gay marriage, who were likely smelling victory on Wednesday – with Corzine's ouster and a Senate defeat, the bill was certain to be contained for at least the next four years – called the last-minute detour a “game.”

“They're using the Legislature as a propaganda tool,” John Tomicki, president of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage, told the New York Times. “They didn't have the courage to bring the issue up before the election, and now they're playing games to do things that the public doesn't approve of at the very last minute.”

Weinberg, disagreed, saying it was “the fairest way to proceed,” referring to the intense interest generated at Monday's hearing. Additional testimony could be heard during an Assembly hearing before either chamber decides on the issue.

Assembly leaders have said they are uncertain when a hearing would be scheduled.