In the United States the supreme court of New Jersey has ruled in favour of giving same-sex couples equal status to married couples, but said it favoured allowing civil unions instead of gay marriage.

The court said same-sex couples were entitled to the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes, The New York Times reported.

It gave the New Jersey legislature a six-month deadline to enact the necessary legislation to provide same-sex unions with equal rights to married couples.

However, the court said it could not find that the right to same-sex marriage was a fundamental right under the constitution.

It said it was not up to it to decide whether same-sex unions took the form of marriage or civil unions, as that was a matter left to the democratic process.

One justice said giving same-sex couples the same status as marriage did not necessitate allowing gay marriage.

At this point, the court does not consider whether committed same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, but only whether those couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits afforded to married heterosexual couples, the court wrote.

Cast in that light, the issue is not about the transformation of the traditional definition of marriage, but about the unequal dispensation of benefits and privileges to one of two similarly situated classes of people.

The court favoured New Jersey adopting civil unions, as the states of Vermont and Connecticut have done.

However chief justice Deborah Poritz said her court’s decision did not go far enough and that same-sex couples do have the fundamental right to participate in state-sanctioned civil marriage.

Gay rights group Garden State Equality also thought the court’s decision was disappointing.

Those who would view today’s ruling as a victory for same sex couples are dead wrong, Garden State Equality chairman Steven Goldstein said.

Half-steps short of marriage -” like New Jersey’s domestic-partnership law and also civil union laws -” don’t work in the real world.

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