By David Ariosto, CNN
(CNN) - A political battle is shaping up in the Garden State about whether to give gay and lesbian couples the right to wed - a move that, if approved, would make New Jersey the seventh state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.
How the issue plays out was the subject of a series of political thrusts and parries this week between a Democratic-controlled state legislature and a Republican governor, who supports New Jersey's civil unions but opposes same-sex marriage.
Gov. Chris Christie, a conservative favorite once thought of as a potential presidential contender, called Tuesday for a state-wide referendum to settle the issue.
"This issue that our state's exploring, whether or not to redefine hundreds of years of societal and religious traditions, should not be decided by 121 people in the statehouse in Trenton," the governor said during a town hall meeting. "The institution of marriage is too serious to be treated like a political football."