New Jersey is the third state to give approval to civil unions; Massachusetts permits gay couples to marry but only if they live in the state. Since Vermont began allowing civil unions in 2000, between 250 and 400 New Jersey couples have gotten hitched there (along with about 200 New York couples a year). Connecticut’s civil union laws took effect in October 2005.
The 2000 Census found about 16,000 same-sex couples living together in New Jersey, though the Urban Institute, a research organization, says the true count is as much as 50 percent higher; nearly one-third of them are raising children.
In interviews with more than a dozen gays and lesbians over the past three days, many talked about following through on long deferred plans now that the law has been passed. Other couples welcomed the broader rights but said little would change, saying that their commitments did not need a government sanction. There was approval from single people as well, even if some had not followed the debate as closely as their friends who share children, homes or bank accounts.
The legislation does not spell out procedures for obtaining civil unions, but advocates for same-sex marriage and state officials said the process was likely to mirror that for marriage. In New Jersey, couples apply for a marriage license in the municipality where the bride lives, unless the bride lives out of state; such rules would most likely have to be tweaked.