New measure is response to state Supreme Court’s ruling that found gay couples have right to the protections and responsibilities of marria
TRENTON, N.J. Gay couples would be able to register in civil unions and claim all the rights of married couples under a measure advanced Monday, Dec. 11, by a state Senate committee, making it possible such a law could be passed sometime this week.
The Senate Judiciary committee advanced the bill with an 8-2 vote. The bill has marched quickly toward becoming law since being introduced only last week. It was scheduled for a vote before the state Assembly on Thursday, Dec. 14 and was set to possibly be sent before the full Senate the same day.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he would sign a civil unions law.
The measure was crafted in response to the state Supreme Court’s ruling in October that found gay couples have a constitutional right to the protections and responsibilities of marriage. The court gave the Legislature 180 days to pass such a law, but left it up to lawmakers to decide whether to call the relationships “marriage.”
Lawmakers have opted instead to call them “civil unions,” a term that the state’s voters are more comfortable with, according to four independent polls conducted in the last few months.
Gay rights supporters have rallied against the civil unions law, arguing it is not the same as marriage.
But on Monday, as it looked more likely the bill would pass, Steven Goldstein, the executive director of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, said he took consolation that the measure is a stronger civil union bill than seen in some states.
Unlike those in Vermont and Connecticut, it does not specify that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, he said. It also creates a commission to study how well the law is working a measure that some conservatives opposed.
In the last few weeks, conservative opponents of same-sex couplings have been pushing for an alternate “equal benefits” idea, which would allow gay couples and also other pairs of people unable to marry such as adult siblings who live together to get the same benefits as married couples.
The advocates of that approach said it satisfies the requirements of the Supreme Court ruling without raising same-sex relationships to a level close to marriages.
“Why bring the divisive sexual conduct into it if it can be avoided,” Thomas P. George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, told the panel.
In a separate vote, the committee also approved the renomination of Jaynee LaVecchia as a state Supreme Court justice but only after grilling her on the ruling that forced the lawmakers to consider the civil union bill.
LaVecchia, 62, has served seven years on the court; if the full Senate confirms her, she will be able to remain on the bench until she turns 70.
One senator, Joseph M. Kyrillos, R-Middlesex, voted against her.
A second, Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen, accused her of exercising political bias in the gay marriage case, which LaVecchia denied. Cardinale voted for her with a backhanded compliment. “You’re not as bad as all the rest of them,” he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 15, 2006