The New Jersey state senate approved a bill Thursday giving same-sex couples many of the state-level rights available to legally married couples, and the governor is expected to sign it into law, which would make New Jersey the fifth state to recognize domestic partners. Gay rights activists cheered and some openly wept as senators voted. "I absolutely kissed the floor," said Steven Goldstein, campaign manager for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay rights advocacy group. The state senate approved the bill 23-9. The house had approved it earlier. Gov. James E. McGreevey is likely to sign the measure shortly.
The legislation would give domestic partners access to medical benefits, insurance, and other legal rights, and New Jersey would recognize partnerships from other states. The legislation does not change the state's marriage law, which specifies that unions must be between a man and a woman. To obtain domestic-partner status, a couple would have to share a residence and show proof of joint financial status or property ownership or designation of the partner as the beneficiary in a retirement plan or will. Details on registration have yet to be worked out. The bill also would allow a surviving partner to gain property rights and other survivors' benefits. "Today same-sex couples in New Jersey have won many of the rights the state gives to opposite-sex couples when it issues them a marriage license," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, which is the statewide gay rights organization in neighboring New York State. "While it is not yet full equality for same-sex couples in New Jersey, it is a step forward. We praise the assembly and the senate in New Jersey for passing this bill and Governor McGreevey for promising to sign it into law.
Conservative groups are vowing to fight the measure in court. John Tomicki, executive director of the League of American Families, said the bill discriminates against unmarried heterosexual couples. Domestic partnerships are recognized in California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii, and civil unions between same-sex couples are legal in Vermont.