State legislators approve civil union rejecting N.J. bishops' advice
TRENTON, N.J. (CNS) – Rejecting the advice of New Jersey's Catholic bishops, the state Legislature approved a bill allowing civil unions for same-sex couples, giving them all the rights and privileges available to married couples under state law.
Signed into law by Gov. Jon S. Corzine Dec. 21, the measure was written after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's ban on same-sex marriages resulted in "the unequal dispensation of benefits and privileges to one of two similarly situated classes of people."
The court had set a 180-day deadline for the Legislature to revise the marriage laws to provide for equal treatment of same-sex couples.
The bishops, in an open letter to legislators Dec. 6, said they understood "the constraints under which you are working to respond to the Supreme Court's decision in Lewis v. Harris."
"Please know that we share your desire to bring about a law that will treat people with justice and respect," they said, adding that "a need for justice ... may indeed exist" in such areas as health and retirement programs, property rights, tax advantages and inheritance laws.
But "this need should not be determined solely on the basis of a sexual relationship," said the bishops, who represent the state's five Latin-rite and two Eastern Catholic dioceses. Many other people – "elderly siblings, single mothers and grandmothers caring for a dependent child, to name a few" – also need access to such benefits, they added.
"At this critical moment in the history of our state, we urge you to think boldly and inclusively by creating a new legal structure of relationship for adults," the bishops said. "Such a statute would extend the right to enter into a mutual support contract to any two adults who wish to do so regardless of gender, orientation or blood relationship.
"If New Jersey is to be a leader in the nation in terms of equitable treatment of its people, let it be a leader in how it treats all of its people," they added.
The civil unions legislation was approved by the state Assembly by a 56-19 vote and by the Senate, 23-12, both on Dec. 14.
Earlier in December, Patrick R. Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, testified before the Assembly Judiciary Committee on behalf of the bishops.
"New Jersey, like other states, has from the beginning recognized marriage, honored it and sought to support and protect it," he said. "Today, we ask you to continue the tradition of protecting marriage as a union of one man and one woman."
Signing the letter to legislators were Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark and Bishops Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen, John M. Smith of Trenton, Andrew Pataki of Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese, Joseph A. Galante of Camden, Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson and Joseph Younan of the Byzantine Catholic Diocese of Passaic.
Meanwhile in California, the state Supreme Court unanimously voted Dec. 20 to re-examine the constitutionality of the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The case could be heard in court as early as next summer. California currently has domestic partnerships that give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples.
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Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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