Lawmakers in New York have rejected a bill that would have made the state the sixth to legalize gay marriage.
Wednesday's surprising 38-24 Senate vote strikes down a previous decision by the State Assembly to extend the right to marry to homosexuals. Thirty-two votes were needed for passage.
Sen. Ruben Diaz, a conservative minister from the Bronx, spoke for those who opposed the bill.
"If you put this issue before the voters, the voters will reject it," he said. "Let the people decide."
Gov. David Paterson had been pushing the bill and vowed to sign it, had the legislation passed the Senate. He and other supporters wanted at least a floor debate on the measure.
Patterson criticized senators who supported gay marriage but "didn't have the intestinal fortitude to vote for it."
The gay marriage vote in New York-- where civil unions are also illegal-- was delayed for months, as some lawmakers serving conservative districts struggled with how to move forward.
Proponents are now promising further action in 2010 to change the definition of marriage.
Meanwhile, same-sex marriage is practiced in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont. New Hampshire's law takes effect Jan. 1 and the District of Columbia is expected to decide on the issue soon.