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New Jersey
celebrates a year of domestic partnerships

New Jersey
celebrates a year of domestic partnerships


Residents gather to mark the anniversary of the passage of state domestic-partnership law.

A group of gay men and lesbians in New Jersey gathered on Sunday for a town hall meeting to mark the one-year anniversary of the state's passage of a domestic-partnership law. Massachusetts representative Barney Frank--the longest-serving out gay member of Congress--and several New Jersey state lawmakers were among a crowd of about 400 who went to St. George's Episcopal Church in Maplewood for an often loud and raucous meeting staged by Garden State Equality, a grassroots group advocating for gay and lesbian rights. In July 2004, New Jersey became the fifth state to recognize gay and lesbian couplings with a domestic-partnership law. The law extends some tax and health insurance benefits to same-sex couples but does not allow them to marry. And while many attending the meeting praised the law as a step in the right direction, they believe it does not go far enough. "It doesn't provide half the amount of rights as married couples get," said Su Lael, 45, who along with her partner, Sarah, are one of the seven couples suing the state for the right to legally marry. Although they have been together for 15 years, the pair have not registered under the domestic-partnership law. "We're holding out for marriage," Sarah said. One of the common complaints about the law is that it does not force employers to give gay and lesbian partners the same benefits as married couples, including access to health care or retirement benefits. Many couples attending the meeting also pointed to more intangible reasons for wanting to get married, such as the desire for commitment, societal recognition, and love. "We love each other, and we want to get married," said Catherine Hecht, 35, who along with her partner, Beth Achenbach, 37, were the first couple to be registered in Jersey City under the law. Same-sex marriage advocates have taken to the courts to push for legal recognition, arguing that gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry under the state constitution. However, they have had little success so far. A state appeals court rejected their argument earlier this year, but since one of the judges dissented, the case automatically goes to the state supreme court. The justices will likely hear arguments within the next year, although a lawyer from Lambda Legal, which is representing the gay and lesbian couples in the court, said no hearing dates had been set. Opponents of same-sex marriage say it will corrupt the institution of marriage and that wedlock should be reserved for a union between a man and woman. However, that argument was rejected by Frank. "They always predict chaos, and they're never right," said Frank, whose home state is the only one in the nation where courts have recognized gay marriage. (AP)

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