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N.J. lawmakers
pass civil unions bill

N.J. lawmakers
pass civil unions bill

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Under pressure from New Jersey's highest court to offer marriage or its equivalent to gay couples, the legislature approved a bill Thursday to create civil unions in the Garden State.

Under pressure from New Jersey's highest court to offer marriage or its equivalent to gay couples, the legislature voted Thursday to make New Jersey the third state to allow civil unions. Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine said he would sign the measure, which would extend to same-sex couples all the rights and privileges available under state law to married people. The bill passed the assembly 56 to 19 with five abstentions and the senate 23 to 12 with five abstentions.

Massachusetts is the only state to allow gay marriage. Vermont and Connecticut allow civil unions, and California has enacted a domestic partnership law.

Among the benefits gay couples would get under New Jersey's civil unions bill are adoption rights, hospital visitation rights, and inheritance rights.

Gay rights advocates welcomed the bill as a step forward but said they would continue to push for the right to marry.

The bill was drafted in response to a landmark New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in October that required the state to extend the rights and benefits of marriage to gay couples within 180 days. The court, in its 4-3 ruling, left it up to the legislature to decide whether to call such unions marriages or something else.

Gay rights groups have argued that not calling a same-sex partnership a marriage creates a different and inferior institution. Some conservatives argued against civil unions altogether, and Republican Sen. Robert Singer said Thursday that he wanted to add a provision to the bill defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Citing recent state polls showing strong support for marriage eqaulity, Steven Goldstein, director of the gay rights advocacy organization Garden State Equality, said he expects same-sex couples to be able to get married in New Jersey within two years. (AP)

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