N.J. Civil Union Law Goes Into Effect

By | February 20, 2007

Hundreds of gay couples received the same legal protections as married couples early Monday when a law took effect to make New Jersey the third U.S. state to offer civil unions.

The civil unions — which offer the legal benefits but not the title of marriage — were granted automatically to the hundreds of gay 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.

A handful of town halls across the state also opened at 12:01 a.m. (0501 GMT) 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. A few dozen friends, Finkle’s 17-year-old daughter and several local officials showed up to cheer the couple as they filled out paperwork in their town hall.

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 last December, less than two months after a state Supreme Court decision held that gay couples had a right to the same benefits as married couples.

Gay rights activists in the state say they will 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 gay couples to marry, while California offers domestic partnerships.

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