As of tomorrow, same-sex couples in New Jersey will be able to register for civil unions, by Wednesday they'll be able to have ceremonies and be legally recognized as partners.
For those not familiar, last year our state Supreme Court voted that same-sex couples were entitled to all the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex couples. They left it up to the NJ legislature to decide whether to call these legal partnerships "marriage" or find some other term. NJ lawmakers chose "civil union," shying away from the potential controversy of the word "marriage."
New Jersey is a fairly liberal state, even many of our Republicans are relatively moderate compared to the rabid dogs down in DC, so the concept of civil unions actually didn't seem to meet too much resistance (there was some, of course, there always is, but I never really got the impression that it was as widespread as some of the louder dissenters wanted us to believe).
The hang-up on "marriage" is still an issue, though. There is a lot of criticism from the gay community that civil unions are no better than any other "seperate-but-equal" measure and still mark them as second class citizens (note: the only situation where seperate-but-equal has been considered universally appropriate has been the division of public restrooms into Men's and Women's.)
One of the biggest arguments against same-sex marriage comes from religious conservatives. Marriage, they argue, is a holy sacrament, defined as between a man and woman only.
That word, "holy" is the key to my personal opinion in the matter. If marriage is indeed a sacrament, it comes under the authority of the church. We have this prevailing myth in the United States that there is some seperation of the Church and the State, that we make laws based on legal and ethical considerations, not church doctrine.
So, if marriage is a sacrament, then the government has no right whatsoever to control it at all. Government can't tell you who you can or can't marry, but on the other hand, the government can't pronounce you married either.
Now, as for the legal and financial issues of forming some sort of official domestic partnership, well, that brings us back to the civil union. A civil union would fall under the domain of the state. Two men, two women, a man and a woman, should be able to incorporate themselves in a civil union, regardless of what kind of gender combination they want to get up to.
No more marriage license at Town Hall, you register your civil union and you're done. Now, if you want to get married, go to the church. They have the right to be bigoted or not. That's up to them. If they say you can't marry your boyfriend because you have the same plumbing as him, that's their business. Of course, if your church says you can marry a lamp post, I suppose you could do that too, but I doubt you'd get any sort of legal recognition for it.
Now, there would be the mass of marriages which would be legally recognized unions that were in turn blessed by the church, there would be civil unions that weren't blessed by a church sacrament, either because the church said no, or because the two parties didn't care to bring Organized Religion into the mix, and there would be a small minority of Religious Marriages without legal recognition, for whatever reason (I can think of a few, but really don't feel like going there right now).
Church gets to deny who they feel like, state gets to create more paperwork, couples get to fill out taxes together, everybody's happy. Or at the very least, miserable in a non-discriminatory manner. It's all good.
Now, for my part, I'm still trying to figure out a better set of generic nouns for all this. Husband and husband, husband and wife, wife and wife? "Partner" is too vague and makes it sound like they co-own and auto parts store with you. "Spouse" is just not a word anyone uses in conversation (if anyone actually says, "let me introduce you to my spouse," you can safely assume that they are a disguised alien life form and take appropriate action.)
For those who are really, really upset and angry and get all Fred Phelps-ish about the horrible sinful abomination of "Gay Marriage", I have one thing for you to ponder: if we are finally legally recognizing "gay marriage" can "gay divorce" be far behind?