ASBURY PARK, N.J. – Gay and lesbian couples across New Jersey began claiming their right to the legal benefits of marriage early today in ceremonies that formalized their relationships as civil unions.
The state law establishing civil unions for same-sex couples took effect Monday. But because there is a 72-hour waiting period after applying for a license, most couples had to wait until today to hold civil union ceremonies.
New Jersey is the third state in the nation to offer civil unions, which provide same-sex couples the same legal protections as marriage – but without the same title. Vermont and Connecticut also offer civil unions, and California offers domestic partnerships with benefits similar to civil unions. Massachusetts is the only state to allow same-sex marriages.
In October, the state Supreme Court ordered New Jersey legislators to offer gay couples all the benefits of marriage, but left it up to the lawmakers what to call it. They opted for “civil unions” in part because of opposition from legislators who objected on religious grounds to calling it “marriage.”
The civil unions law grants same-sex couples hundreds of benefits, including the right to file state taxes jointly and inheritance and child-custody rights. Also, people in civil unions cannot be forced to testify against their partners in criminal court.
ASSOCIATED PRESS: You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!