N.J. Bill OKs Same-Sex Benefits

The state Senate approved a bill Thursday to give same-sex couples many of the rights available to legally married couples, and the governor is expected to sign it into law, making New Jersey the fifth state to recognize domestic partners.

Gay and lesbian advocates cheered, hugged and some openly wept as senators voted. "I absolutely kissed the floor," said Steven Goldstein, campaign manager of Lambda Legal, an advocacy group.

The Senate approved the bill 23 to 9. The House had approved it earlier. Gov. James E. McGreevey has indicated he will sign it.

The legislation would give domestic partners access to medical benefits, insurance and other legal rights, and New Jersey would recognize partnerships from other states. The legislation does not change the state's marriage law, which specifies that marriage must be between a man and a woman.

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

To obtain domestic-partner status in New Jersey, a couple would have to share a residence and show proof of joint financial status or property ownership or designation of the partner as the beneficiary in a retirement plan or will.

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