Panel says New Jersey should allow gay marriage

Wed Dec 10, 2008 8:04pm EST
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By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - New Jersey should follow two other U.S. states and allow same-sex couples to marry rather than just enter into civil unions, as the law currently permits, a state commission recommended on Wednesday.

In a report that could lead to New Jersey legalizing gay marriage, the Civil Union Review Commission said same-sex couples cannot achieve equality with heterosexual couples if their legal status is restricted to civil unions.

Full marriage is the only way to meet a state constitutional requirement for equality, said the 13-member panel of public officials, clergy, lawyers and same-sex marriage advocates.

The panel was picked by the governor, other state officials and state agencies and charged with evaluating New Jersey's civil union law and making a recommendation. Its recommendation was unanimous.

"The Commission finds that the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children," the panel said in a 79-page report based on an 18-month investigation.

Citing "overwhelming evidence," it said "civil unions will not be recognized by the general public as the equivalent of marriage in New Jersey."

New Jersey's state Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that same-sex couples are entitled to the same civil rights as heterosexual couples but declined to say whether a same-sex union should be called marriage.

The court handed the question to the state legislature which created the civil unions law in 2007.   Continued...

<p>Troy Stover, a supporter of gay marriage wears an "I Do" button outside New Haven City Hall in New Haven, Connecticut, November 12, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Segar</p>