The council met behind closed doors Wednesday morning after the state attorney general ordered city officials late Tuesday to stop accepting applications from gay couples or face prosecution.
Councilman John M. Loffredo said the council acted reluctantly.
"I've had friends who were beaten for no other reason than they were gay. For us to deny anyone the right to marry is wrong," he said.
Last month, President Bush called for quick election-year enactment of a constitutional amendment following a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in November that it is unconstitutional to bar gay couples from marriage. Since the ruling, several cities and mayors have been conducting gay marriages in defiance of local and state laws.
In letters to city officials sent Tuesday afternoon, New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey threatened prosecution if council members did not cease and desist.
The action came at the close of a day in which more than a dozen gay and lesbian couples descended upon City Hall in hopes they could be licensed and married before Harvey made good on promises to invalidate the unions.
On Monday, Louis Navarrete, 42, and partner Ric Best, 44, were married at City Hall, thrusting New Jersey into the fractious state-versus-municipality gay marriage dilemma already being played out in California, New York and Oregon.
No other gay marriages have been performed, but 16 couples got applications approved Monday and Tuesday and were in the three-day waiting period required by state law before a wedding can take place.
Harvey told Deputy Mayor James Bruno that he was wrong to perform Monday's ceremony.
More marriages could mean "potential criminal prosecution," Harvey warned. A conviction could result in a fine of up to $10,000 and possible jail time, said Lee Moore, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.
Gay marriage has so far been rejected by state courts. On Nov. 5, the Law Division of New Jersey Superior Court held that New Jersey's marriage statutes do not permit same-sex marriages. Nothing in the state constitution guarantees same-sex unions as a right and the appropriate forum to change marriage laws is the Legislature, the judge ruled.
The ruling is being appealed by gay activists.
On Wednesday, a group of gay Republicans who supported Mr. Bush in 2000, announced they will begin airing a television ad opposing the constitutional amendment that would prohibit gays from marrying.
The 30-second spot by the Log Cabin Republicans shows Vice President Dick Cheney at a debate four years ago saying, "People should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into." The ad begins Thursday in several states.
The vice president also says: "I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area." The words "We agree" then flash on the screen.
Cheney said last week that he supports the president, even though one of his daughters, Mary, is gay.
The Log Cabin Republicans' $1 million effort to defeat the amendment includes lobbying, grass-roots mobilization and print advertisements with the TV ads, which will run in Washington, D.C., Ohio, Missouri, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.
In other developments:
However, following news reports of the resolution, the city officials said Tuesday that the topic may be best to someone else.
San Jose became the first city in California to recognize the unions from San Francisco or any other city that allows gay marriage, voting 8-1 Tuesday to pass a motion that could provide more comprehensive health and retirement benefits to partners and family members of gay and lesbian city workers.
Black pastors who oppose gay marriage plan to gather at the Statehouse today to deny claims that the fight for same-sex marriage rights is comparable to the civil rights fight of the 1960s.