N.J. Civil Union Laws Goes Into Effect

Tuesday, February 20th 2007, 6:50 am
By: News On 6

TEANECK, N.J. (AP) _ The two men wore suit jackets, but not tuxedos _ or even ties. Instead of dancing after the ceremony, there were media interviews.

Steven Goldstein and Daniel Gross were careful to make sure no one would mistake their civil union _ entered in the first minutes New Jersey allowed it just after midnight Monday _ for a marriage.

Though the purpose of the ceremony was to unite the two men _ which offers the protections and benefits of marriage, but not the title _ there were reminders that the couple was not satisfied with their new legal status in New Jersey.

Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, who conducted the exchange of vows at a state legislative district office, asked the few dozen friends of the couple as part of the ceremony, ``Do you vow to continue your support for true marriage equality?''

When the civil union law went into effect, hundreds of New Jersey couples, including Goldstein and Gross, were automatically covered because they had been married in Massachusetts, Canada, or other places where gay couples can marry, or had entered into a civil union or similar institution elsewhere.

Goldstein, 44, and Gross, 36, had a Jewish wedding in Montreal and a civil union ceremony in Vermont in 2002. The wedding came before Canada allowed gay marriage, so it doesn't come with any legal standing, though the civil union does.

Goldstein, the chairman of the gay rights political group Garden State Equality, and Gross, a vice president at Goldman Sachs, chose to reaffirm their status in part to get more attention for their efforts to continue to push for the right to get married.

``This was really all about receiving a piece of paper that had some recognition of our status,'' Gross said.

For couples who are not just reaffirming their civil unions, there is a 72-hour waiting period between applying for a license and holding a ceremony.

On Monday, at least 20 couples applied at a handful of town halls especially open for the occasion, even though it was President's Day. Most of them were planning ceremonies for Thursday.

Gay rights groups say they will lobby lawmakers to legalize gay marriage, and file lawsuits to try to force the courts to legalize it.

As with Goldstein and Gross, many of the couples say they will plan bigger to-do's if they can get the right to marriage in New Jersey. ``You're all invited to that wedding in the next two years _ or less,'' Goldstein told his guests.

Gay rights groups and opponents _ including the state's seven Roman Catholic bishops _ are mobilizing for political and legal battles over marriage rights.

Some conservative groups are more troubled by civil unions than others are, but most hold that allowing gay couples the right to marry would undermine an important institution in civilization and break with thousands of years of tradition.

They are pushing lawmakers to amend the state constitution to bar gay marriages. Such an amendment would require legislative support and a popular vote. Forty-five other states have either laws or amendments with such bans.

Only Massachusetts allows gay couples to marry. Three other states _ California, Connecticut and Vermont _ have laws similar to New Jersey's.

Among the hundreds of benefits under the state's civil unions law are rights involving adoption and child custody, visiting a hospitalized partner and making medical decisions. Couples with civil unions also have the right not to testify against a partner in state court.

However, the federal government and most states do not recognize the unions. That means, for instance, that if a member of a civil union is hospitalized in another state, the other partner in the union may not be allowed in the room.