A bill giving legal rights to domestic partners, including same-sex couples, was approved by the New Jersey assembly on Monday. The legislation was approved by a vote of 41-28, with nine members abstaining. Under the legislation, domestic partners would get access to medical benefits, insurance, and other legal rights. The bill does not authorize gay marriage, which is against the law in New Jersey. "We are extending to more of our population the civil rights to which they are due," said Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen). The bill would not force businesses to offer health coverage to gay
partners of employees but would require insurance companies to make it available. It would also allow a surviving partner to gain property rights and other survivors' benefits.
Earlier Monday, the senate judiciary committee approved an identical version of the legislation. It will next go before the senate budget panel, which is scheduled to meet on January 8. "The Domestic Partnership Act acknowledges long-standing relationships between certain couples and makes sure these committed couples are granted some basic rights under New Jersey law," said senate Democratic president Richard Codey, a sponsor of the bill. The senate and assembly are expected to craft one final bill to present to Gov. James E. McGreevey, who said last week that he is looking forward to signing legislation that provides basic rights, such as the right to make critical health care decisions, to domestic partners.