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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 15, 2006

Civil union bill sails through
New Jersey statehouse

Trenton, N.J.--Scant weeks after the state Supreme Court mandated equal rights for same-sex couples, the New Jersey legislature may pass a civil union bill as early as December 14.

The legislation moving so quickly, however, has drawn criticism for being only civil unions and not full marriage. One LGBT leader called the wording of the bill �putrid.�

The measure originally referred to the people entering into a civil union as �parties.� The existing marriage laws refer to the couple as �spouses.�

�Even by the standards of a civil unions bill, it�s still putrid,� said Steven Goldstein, executive director of Garden State Equality. �I�ve been with my partner more than 14 years. He�s well beyond �a party to a civil union.� �

The Assembly Judicial Committee changed the language before approving the bill on December 7, and the bill now refers to �civil union couples.�

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in October that barring same-sex couples from the rights and benefits of marriage violated the state constitution. The majority decision, however, said that same-sex couples did not necessarily have the right to the term �marriage.�

The court gave the legislature six months to address the issue, either with civil unions or full same-sex marriage.

The bill currently before the legislature says that couples in a civil union �shall receive the same benefits and protections and be subject to the same responsibilities as spouses in a marriage,� but leaves out language found in Vermont�s law which spells out that civil unions include �any definition or use of the terms �spouse,� �family,� �immediate family,� �dependent,� �next of kin.� �

Bills have also been introduced that would institute full same-sex marriage and put a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot. Neither are expected to advance.

Polls show that New Jerseyans oppose both same-sex marriage and a constitutional amendment barring it.

On December 11, a pastor waded into the marriage debate during his invocation at the beginning of the Senate session.

According to the Newark Star Ledger, Rev. Vincent Fields of Greater Works Ministries said, �We curse the spirit that would come to bring about same-sex marriage. We ask you to just look over this place today, cause them to be shaken in their very heart in uprightness, Lord, to do that is right before you.�

Not all of the legislators were pleased with his prayer.

�I do not think a pastor should be using the microphone in the Senate for a prayer to open the session by lobbying for or against something,� said Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a co-sponsor of the civil union bill. �Usually, if you�re going to lobby members, you have to wear a lobbyist badge.�



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