They added that they reached no conclusion on the merits of the plaintiffs' allegations that the Civil Union Act violates their constitutional rights.
The three justices who dissented, Virginia Long, Jaynee LaVecchia and Barry Albin, said they were disappointed that the court denied the motion without oral argument. That means the plaintiffs would have to file a complaint in Superior Court to seek relief.
Long, LaVecchia and Albin said that if the plaintiffs' allegations were true, "the constitutional inequities should be addressed without any unnecessary delay," and that they therefore hope that proceedings in Superior Court would be conducted "with all deliberate speed."
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, said he was disappointed but undeterred.
"Our battle never stops," he said. "No doubt we'll be back in court. The Supreme Court encouraged our side to file a new suit, and we'll do just that."
He characterized the Supreme Court's decision as a punt rather than a defeat, noting that the court did not say the plaintiffs' case was without merit.
Opponents of gay marriage praised the court's decision.
"We're delighted that the court did not, as it has, legislate from the bench," said John Tomicki, president of the Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage, a New Jersey organization that is urging the state to decide the definition of marriage through a referendum.
In 2006, the state Supreme Court ruled that gay couples should have the same rights as married heterosexual couples, but stopped short of requiring the state to allow gay couples to wed. The Legislature voted to allow civil unions rather than marriages, for gay couples.
Among those disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision was Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, (D., Union) one of the prime sponsors of a bill to allow gay marriage during the last legislative session.
"I'm confident that a full vetting of the issues serves to benefit and strengthen our cause for full marriage equality," Lesniak said. "But justice delayed is justice denied, so I ask New Jersey's judiciary to expedite the proceedings. Many people have waited a long time to enjoy their civil right to marry. While careful deliberation is warranted, so is an expedited proceedings."
None of the three justices who voted to deny the plaintiffs' motion has yet received tenure. Gov. Christie, who set off a firestorm of controversy when he decided not to reappoint Justice John Wallace Jr. to the state's top bench, ending decades of tradition, would have the opportunity to reappoint or replace Rivera-Soto and Hoens, whose husband works for the Christie administration.
The three justices who dissented have received tenure, which means they can serve until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Contact staff writer Adrienne Lu at 609-989-8990 or email@example.com