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NJ Legislature Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions

The New Jersey State Legislature voted on Thursday to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples after the state’s highest court ordered the legislature to pass a law that would give same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples. Governor Jon Corzine (D) said that he would sign the measure, which passed the Assembly 56-19 and the Senate 23-12, the Associated Press reports. The bill, which was written after the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in late October, gives same-sex couples benefits including adoption rights, hospital visitation rights, and inheritance rights.

While many lesbian and gay rights groups are celebrating the decision, others are concerned that same-sex couples are still denied the right to and benefits of a legal marriage, AP reports. Felice Londa, a family lawyer who frequently represents same-sex couples, spoke to the AP about the inherent conflict now between New Jersey’s law and the federal laws that govern same-sex unions, saying, “If it were a marriage, it gives you standing to challenge. That’s the issue. If you call us anything else, you can’t challenge federal laws that deny us equal rights.”

In 2000, the US Census reported that some 16,000 same-sex couples are living together in New Jersey, but the Urban Institute estimates that the true count is closer to 24,000, the New York Times reports. New Jersey will be the third state to legalize civil union for same-sex couples. Vermont and Connecticut allow civil unions, California has a similar system of domestic partnerships, and Massachusetts is still the only state to allow gay marriage.
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Sources:

New York Times 12/16/06; AP 12/14/06; AP 12/16/06; Feminist Daily Newswire 10/26/06