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Partnership Rights for Gays

New York Times Editorial

January 13, 2004

New Jersey struck an important blow for equal rights yesterday, when Gov. James McGreevey signed a gay domestic partnership law. The new law gives gay couples significant new rights, including financial benefits and hospital visiting privileges. New Jersey's action, which produced surprisingly little controversy, should encourage other states and municipalities to redress discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.

While Massachusetts's recent court decision that gay people have a right to marry was grabbing all the headlines late last year, New Jersey legislators were quietly promoting a bill to extend many of the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. They succeeded last week when the bill, which had already been approved by the Assembly, was passed by the Senate, 23 to 9. It was striking how little opposition the bill generated: before the Senate voted, not a single senator spoke against the measure.

The new law addresses a wide array of injustices in New Jersey. Gay partners will no longer be excluded from hospital rooms because they are not legally recognized as family members, and will be able to make important medical decisions for each other. The law extends to gay people many of the tax advantages married couples enjoy, including the right to claim a partner as an exemption on state income tax filings. Gay partners in New Jersey are still denied some of the rights of married people, including significant financial rights. Gays should be allowed to marry, as Massachusetts's highest court recently held. But New Jersey has taken an enormous step forward.

New Jersey joins four other states and countless municipalities in recognizing gay partnership rights. In a recent cover story, Governing magazine reported that the newest group to join the fight for such laws was the business community, which increasingly views the laws as crucial to attracting the young, highly skilled work force that is needed to compete in today's economy. If this theory is right, New Jersey has helped the entire state by standing up for its gay residents.

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