McGreevey Pens Garden State Same-Sex Partner Bill

January 13, 2004 ( - As expected New Jersey Governor James McGreevey has inked the Garden State's Domestic Partnership Act giving unprecedented legal, health care and financial rights to same-sex partners.

With McGreevey’s approval, New Jersey becomes the fifth state to recognize same-sex partnerships and extend certain benefits to gay couples, according to the Associated Press.

Under the New Jersey measure, domestic partners will gain access to medical benefits, insurance and other legal rights. New Jersey also will recognize such partnerships granted in other states. “This legislation is a matter of fundamental decency,” McGreevey said at the signing, according to the AP.

The act means domestic partners can visit each other in the hospital, make critical health care decisions, receive survivor benefits and receive state income deductions and inheritance-tax exemptions.

To obtain domestic-partner status, a couple must live together and show proof of joint financial status, property ownership or designation of the partner as the beneficiary in a retirement plan or will.

The law will not force private businesses to offer health coverage to same-sex partners of employees but does require insurance companies to make it available. A divorce-like proceeding in Superior Court would be necessary to end a domestic partnership. The state now has 180 days to develop the procedure couples will use to register.

The measure also includes some benefits for domestic unions between unmarried heterosexual couples age 62 and over, covering older couples who do not want to get married because of the potential penalties on pensions and other financial interests.

The bill does not authorize gay marriage, which is against the law in New Jersey. McGreevey said he would not back legislation that would change the state’s marriage laws to include same-sex partners. However elated they are by the new law, gay rights advocates said it fell short. “We are pursuing all roads to justice,” Laura Popel, president New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition, told the AP.

Domestic partnerships are recognized in California, Massachusetts and Hawaii, and civil unions between same-sex couples are legal in Vermont.