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Friday, December 08, 2006

Despite pleas from both sides, same-sex civil unions advance
Friday, December 08, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

Gay and lesbian couples who have been together for decades spoke earnestly of their desire to marry. An 8-year-old girl told of being bullied after revealing she has two moms and said allowing them to wed could produce a more tolerant society.

Some urged lawmakers to defy a court ruling mandating equal rights for same-sex couples who wish to formalize their relationships. Others recited biblical injunctions against homosexuality.

But after three hours of emotional testimony, an Assembly committee did what every witness at the hearing urged it not to do. By a party-line vote of 4-2, it approved a bill allowing same-sex couples to form "civil unions" that carry all the rights and obligations of marriage, but by a different name.

"It is the only word that the real world understands," Steven Goldstein, the group's chairman, said. He said without the protection of marriage, same-sex couples "live in fear" that their relationships will not be honored.

The sponsor, Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo (D-Essex), said it was the only politically viable course. He admitted "in a perfect world" he would have preferred a bill extending full marriage equality to same-sex couples.

"I really wish I could have done that, but I couldn't. We don't have the votes, and we can't get the votes in the foreseeable future," Caraballo said. He called his bill "a huge step, not the final step, but a huge step in making sure everyone in our state is treated equally."

Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex), who chairs the committee, said calls to her office are much more "in the middle" than the views expressed at yesterday's hearing. She pointed to a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday showing New Jersey voters support civil unions by a margin of 60 percent to 35 percent...


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