While awaiting a decision on same-sex marriage from its highest court, New Jersey passes a landmark statewide domestic-partnership law

Garden state of bliss: while awaiting a decision on same-sex marriage from its highest court, New Jersey passes a landmark statewide domestic-partnership law

Mubarak Dahir

Already in the news for all ongoing court battle that could legalize same-sex marriage hi the state, New Jersey has now become only the fifth state in the nation to legally recognize gay and lesbian relationships. Signed into law by Gov. James McGreevey on January 12, the new law will give registered domestic partners hospital visitation rights, the ability to make medical decisions for their partners, an exemption from state inheritance taxes, mad equal access to spousal benefits from insurance companies. The law covers not only same-sex couples but also unmarried heterosexual couples age 62 and older. Vermont, Hawaii, and California already have partnership laws, while Massachusetts’s highest court recently ordered that same-sex marriages be made legal before next summer.

A court battle similar to the landmark Massachusetts case is working its way toward New Jersey’s supreme court, Influencing that case “wasn’t the intention” of passing the domestic partnership law, said Loretta Weinberg, a state assemblywoman and lead sponsor of the bill. “For me, it is simply to recognize many people I know who don’t have as much equality under the law as they should have.”

Suzanne Goldberg, a law professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who helped draft an early version of the bill in 1999, said the new law still doesn’t give same-sex couples recognition as traditional families trader many government programs. “Strong opposition in the state assembly [which barely passed the measure] caused the legislature to strip hack the bill,” she said. But the New Jersey law “was never intended to be a substitute for marriage,” site added.

Though it doesn’t come close to comprehensive measures like Vermont’s civil unions or California’s sweeping domestic-partnership law, “it’s a big step forward,” she said, and an important nod to New Jersey’s gay population.

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