- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Ordered by New Jersey’s highest court to offer marriage or its equivalent to homosexuals, the Legislature voted yesterday to make New Jersey the third state to perform same-sex 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 56-19 and the Senate 23-12.

“Love counts,” Democratic Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, a chief sponsor of the bill, said as the debate opened. “The gender of whom one loves should not matter to the state.”

But Republican Assemblyman Ronald S. Dancer said: “It’s my personal belief, faith and religious practice that marriage has been defined in the Bible. And this is one time that I cannot compromise my personal beliefs and faiths.”

Massachusetts is the only state to “marry” homosexual couples. Vermont and Connecticut have civil unions, and California has domestic partnerships that work similarly. Since 2004, New Jersey has had a more limited version of domestic partnerships.

Among the benefits that homosexual couples would get under New Jersey’s civil unions bill are adoption rights, hospital visitation rights and inheritance rights. Officials could begin granting civil unions 60 days after the governor signs the legislation; Mr. Corzine did not say when he would do so.

The bill was drafted in response to a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in October that required the state to extend the rights and benefits of marriage to homosexual 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.

Pro-homosexual groups have argued that not calling such unions “marriage” creates a different — and inferior — institution. But they generally welcomed yesterday’s legislation as a step forward.

“Although it is disappointing that the Legislature did not grant same-sex couples full marriage equality today, it is gratifying that we are achieving proactive advances for equality instead of having to defend ourselves against attacks,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

But David Buckel, Marriage Project Director at Lambda Legal and lead attorney on the court case, said that “although same-sex couples in New Jersey are better off today than yesterday, they are still not equal to other couples.”

“Their relationships will likely continue to be disrespected. By passing a law that marks same-sex couples as inferior, the government has paved the way for others to discriminate against them,” he said.

Some lawmakers also considered yesterday’s action to be an interim step toward full marriage rights.

“This should be called what it is — marriage.” said Democratic Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a sponsor of the bill.

She said the title should be changed after some time has passed, allowing study of how the civil unions bill works.

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