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New Jersey panel
passes civil unions bill without title of "marriage"

New Jersey panel
passes civil unions bill without title of "marriage"

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A panel of New Jersey lawmakers approved a bill on Thursday that would create civil unions giving equal rights to gay and lesbian couple, shunning a push to call those partnerships "marriage."

A panel of New Jersey lawmakers approved a bill on Thursday that would create civil unions giving equal rights to gay and lesbian couple, shunning a push to call those partnerships "marriage." The state assembly's judiciary committee voted 4-2 for the bill, which would provide couples in such unions with the legal rights of married pairs. The measure follows an October 25 state supreme court ruling that ordered the legislature to give gay couples the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples but left it to lawmakers to decide whether to call such arrangements "marriage." Massachusetts became the first and only state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. Several other states have civil union or domestic-partnership laws. The New Jersey panel heard sometimes emotional testimony from campaigners on both sides in a four hour-long hearing. Steve McIntyre said he has been with his partner for 20 years, and they want to be legally married. "He's not my roommate, he's not my partner, he's my husband," McIntyre told the panel. The bill was expected to be approved in both houses of the legislature by the end of the year. Karen Nicholson-McFadden, who is among seven same-sex couples who brought the supreme court case against the state, urged lawmakers to vote against the civil unions bill because, she said, it would continue discrimination against gay and lesbian couples by preventing them from marrying. "The government thinks it's OK to treat us differently because we are gay," she said. "I will never be allowed to marry the only person I would ever want to marry if you pass this bill." Among witnesses opposing same-sex marriage, the Reverend Peter West presented a letter from seven Catholic bishops urging lawmakers to affirm that marriage is "between one man and one woman." (Jon Hurdle, Jonathan Oatis, Reuters)

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