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New Jersey Approves Bill on Gay Couple 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 (search), an advocacy group.

The Senate approved the bill 23-9. The House had approved it earlier. Gov. James E. McGreevey (search) is likely to sign the measure shortly.

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 unions must be between a man and a woman.

To obtain domestic-partner status (search), 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. Details on registration have yet to be worked out.

The bill also would allow a surviving partner to gain property rights and other survivors' benefits (search).

Conservative groups vowed to fight the law in court. John Tomicki, executive director of the League of American Families (search), said the bill discriminates against unmarried heterosexual couples.

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