NJ commission says
state should allow
By GEOFF MULVIHILL,
from the Web, December 10, 2008
CAMDEN, N.J. -- A commission
has concluded that New Jersey legislators should allow gay couples to marry,
setting up what could be a spirited debate over whether the state should be the
first to allow gay marriage by passing a law, rather than by court mandate.
In its final report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, the
state's Civil Union Review Commission concluded that the state's two-year-old
civil union law doesn't do enough to give gay couples the same protections as
heterosexual married couples.
"This 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 report says. The findings of the commission's 13 members
The commission found that the rights afforded to those in civil unions were not
always well understood, and that allowing gay couples to marry would alleviate
the problem. For example, there have been instances when people in civil
unions have been prevented from visiting their partners in hospitals and making
medical decisions on their behalf, the commission found.
"The commission's report should spark a renewed sense of purpose and urgency to
overcoming one of society's last remaining barriers to full equality for all
residents," said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., a Democrat from Camden and
one of the key figures in setting the Legislature's agenda.
Robert Corrales, a spokesman for Gov. Jon S. Corzine, said the governor would
not comment on the report until it was presented. But in the past, Corzine
has said that he would sign a bill allowing gay marriage.
Connecticut and Massachusetts are the only states to allow gay marriage, and
both were ordered to do so by their highest courts. Earlier this year,
California's high court said it was unconstitutional to deny gay couples the
right to marry, but the decision was trumped by a constitutional amendment
approved by voters last month.
Gay marriage opponents criticized the report, saying the commission was made up
of members who favored gay marriage and calling its recommendations
"If you look at the membership of that committee, they're all advocates.
It's an advocacy group," Pat Brannigan, the executive director of the
anti-gay-marriage New Jersey Catholic Conference, said Tuesday. "It
doesn't mean that that is the conclusion that society and people in general will
Steven Goldstein, the commission's vice chairman and the chairman of Garden
State Equality, New Jersey's leading gay rights group, said that while there are
some activists like him on the commission, it was a diverse group.
Six of the 13 members are members of the Corzine administration, which Goldstein
points out went to court in 2006 to oppose gay marriage. The other seven
are members of the public, including one Goldstein described as a "pro-life
Republican," AnnLynne Benson of Clementon.
Benson, who confirmed that she is Republican and opposes abortion, said Tuesday
that her views about gays have evolved over the past 15 years or so as she has
met more gay people. She said the point of the commission was not to
wrestle with whether the state Supreme Court was right to allow civil unions in
2006, but whether the unions delivered on their intent.
Benson said the commission gathered plenty of public comment at a series of
hearings before deciding to issue the report.
Of the 150 people who testified or wrote letters to the commission, only 10
opposed allowing gay couples to marry. Some opposed gay marriage on
religious grounds and some — including Brannigan — argued that civil unions were
The report cited another study that found that allowing gay marriage in New
Jersey would help the state in lean economic times, too: It estimated that
gay weddings would add nearly $250 million to the state's economy over three
Meanwhile, the Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday from prosecutors and
attorneys for six gay couples and three of their children over a district
court's decision to overturn that state's gay-marriage ban last year. Only
one gay couple managed to marry before the judge who issued the ruling stayed
Prosecutors argued that the ruling overturning the ban violated the separation
of powers because the gay marriage issue should be left up to state lawmakers to
decide, not the courts.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued their clients should have the same right to
marry that heterosexual couples have.
It could take a year or more before a ruling is issued, attorneys involved in
the case said.
Associated Press writers David Porter in Newark and Amy
Lorentzen in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.