- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

2:07 p.m.

TEANECK, N.J. (AP) — Hundreds of homosexual couples received the same legal protections as married couples early today when a law making New Jersey the third state in the nation to offer civil unions took effect.

The civil unions — which offer the legal benefits but not the title of marriage — were granted automatically to the hundreds of homosexual New Jersey couples who have been joined in civil unions or “married” in other states or nations.

At least one couple held a ceremony at the first possible moment. Steven Goldstein and Daniel Gross reaffirmed their Vermont civil union shortly after midnight. They would have had the rights in New Jersey even without holding a midnight ceremony here.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a prime sponsor of the civil unions law who hosted ceremonies for couples including Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Gross in her office, called the day “a big giant step forward.”

A handful of town halls across the state also opened at 12:01 a.m. to accept civil union license applications from couples who had not been so joined previously. They must wait 72 hours before they can hold civil union ceremonies, and several plan to exchange vows early Thursday.

Among those couples were Marty Finkle and Michael Plake of South Orange, N.J. A few dozen friends, Mr. Finkle’s 17-year-old daughter and several local officials showed up to cheer the couple as they filled out their paperwork.

The couple also was one of the first in the state to register in a domestic partnership in 2004. Domestic partnerships offered a handful of the benefits and obligations of civil unions.

New Jersey lawmakers hastily created civil unions in December, less than two months after a state Supreme Court decision held that homosexual couples had a right to the same benefits as married couples.

Homosexual rights activists in the state say they’ll continue to press for full marriage rights through both political channels and lawsuits. Some social conservative groups, meanwhile, are pledging to block same-sex “marriage” by pressing for an amendment to the state constitution that prohibits such unions.

Forty-five states have legal or constitutional bans on same-sex “marriages.” Only Massachusetts allows homosexual couples to “marry,” while California offers domestic partnerships.

Mr. Goldstein, the chairman of the homosexual rights group Garden State Equality, and Mr. Gross, a vice president at Goldman Sachs, held their ceremony behind a desk in a cramped office instead of a more idyllic or religious spot.

There were several kisses, a prayer reading, friends and journalists, but no music, no dancing and none of the breaking-of-the-glass that is traditional in Jewish weddings.

The couple did that in a Jewish wedding service in Canada in 2002 — the first same-sex union featured in the wedding pages of the New York Times — and promised even grander festivities if they can gain the right to marry in New Jersey.

As part of their ceremony, their rabbi, Elliott Tepperman, asked the people gathered: “Do you vow to continue your support for true marriage equality?”

“This was really all about receiving a piece of paper that had some recognition of our status,” Mr. Gross said.

Teaneck registrar Laura Turnbull finished processing their civil union license — No. 1 — at 12:09 a.m.

Meanwhile, in Asbury Park five homosexual couples completed civil union licenses in the first hour of the day. Asbury Park has been revived largely by a growing homosexual population; two men were “married” there in 2004, though it wasn’t recognized.

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