Thursday, September 25, 2008

Opponents of same-sex marriage call civil union commission "biased" - Breaking News From New Jersey -

Opponents of same-sex marriage call civil union commission "biased" - Breaking News From New Jersey -

Opponents of same-sex marriage call civil union commission "biased"
by Robert Schwaneberg/The Star-Ledger
Thursday September 25, 2008, 5:03 PM
A state commission that concluded civil unions are not working was denounced as "biased" today by opponents of same-sex marriage.

At a Statehouse news conference, representatives of the state's Catholic bishops, the Knights of Columbus and other groups defending traditional marriage demanded the Civil Union Review Commission be scrapped and reconstituted.

They also said the commission's report, issued in February, arrived at the pre-determined conclusion that civil unions do not grant same-sex couples the benefits of marriage by a different name.

Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, said the 13-member commission had failed in its task of producing "an unbiased evaluation" of whether civil unions work.

"It's really a group advocating for a specific change in our laws," Brannigan said.

J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, who as the state's director of civil rights chairs the review commission, said, "I completely stand by the objective nature of our commission's work and the report we issued."

That report, which was unanimously endorsed by the commission, concluded civil unions are not understood and consign the same-sex couples who form them to "second-class status."

Much of the criticism at the news conference was directed at Vespa-Papaleo and Steven Goldstein, the commission's vice-chairman. Both are openly gay; Goldstein also chairs Garden State Equality, which is campaigning to legalize same-sex marriage.

"Yes, I'm on the commission, but so is a representative of the Attorney General's Office, which opposed marriage equality in the courts," Goldstein said. "They tell half the story."

Demetrios Stratis, who chairs the legal arm of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, said, "At the minimum, don't you think the chair and vice-chair should be the neutral parties?"

In addition to Vespa-Papaleo and Goldstein, the commission includes representatives of the Attorney General's Office and the departments of Human Services, Banking & Insurance, Health & Senior Services, and Children & Families. It has seven public members: five appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine and one each appointed by Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden). Goldstein was appointed by Roberts.

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