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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
February 23, 2007

New Jersey issues its first civil unions

State will recognize marriages from elsewhere as CUs

Trenton, N.J.--At 12:09 a.m. on the morning of February 19, Steven Goldstein and Daniel Gross got their civil union license, the first issued in the state.

Teaneck, N.J., registrar Laura Turnbull signed the license, Civil Union License 1, although officially, the two already have all the state rights and responsibilities of marriage.

New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner issued an opinion on February 16 that the state will recognize same-sex relationships officially recognized elsewhere, including the Vermont civil unions, which Goldstein and Gross have.

According to Rabner’s decision, gay and lesbian couples with full marriages from Massachusetts, Canada or the other four countries that allow them will have full civil unions in New Jersey without having to re-register.

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund marriage project director David Buckel points out that legally married couples will be taking a status demotion in New Jersey, but affirms that it is still a far more positive outcome than if they were in states that did not recognize same-sex relationships at all.

“That seems like the fairest thing under the circumstances,” said Joan Hervey, who married her partner in Canada. “It will be perfect once they call it marriage.”

Civil unions in Vermont or Connecticut, domestic partnerships in California and partner relationships in the U.K and other countries that offer nearly all of the rights of marriage without the name would also be recognized as New Jersey civil unions.

However, people who had more limited partnerships recognized by governments, like those in France, Maine or Washington, D.C., would be recognized under New Jersey’s three-year-old domestic partner law, which offers fewer benefits and is also open to opposite-sex couples in which at least one is over age 62.

Now, same-sex couples can only apply for new domestic partnerships if one is over 62. Other same-sex couples, if they want recognition, must have a civil union, just as heterosexual couples must get married to be recognized.

The civil union law was passed by legislators in December, just two months after the state supreme court ruled that denying same-sex couples the benefits of marriage violated the state constitution. The court ruled, however, that legislators could withhold the word “marriage” itself.

Couples registering for new civil unions have a three-day waiting period before they can have their ceremonies, same as for marriages. Although most municipal offices were closed for President’s Day, some registrars stayed open to begin taking applications.




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