Gay activists have welcomed “pro-active advances” in gay rights as New Jersey looks set to sign two gay equality bills into law.

New Jersey lawmakers passed two pieces of legislation today that are seen as positive steps forward for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality in that state.

The first piece of legislation, Senate Bill 362, which adds gender identity and expression to the state laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public contracts, overwhelmingly passed both the Senate and Assembly.

In addition, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill creating civil unions for same-sex couples that extends all of the state-level spousal rights and responsibilities. Both bills are headed to Governor Jon Corzine’s desk where he is expected to sign both measures.

“Although it is disappointing that the Legislature did not grant same-sex couples full marriage equality today, it is gratifying that we are achieving pro-active advances for equality instead of having to defend ourselves against attacks,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

“These advances for same-sex couples would not have been possible without the tireless work of Garden State Equality. We are honoured to stand beside them as we continue to pursue full equality for same-sex couples in New Jersey.”

“The Human Rights Campaign has been a great partner, along with other groups, in helping us build a grassroots campaign in support of full marriage equality,” said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality. “We look forward to continuing work with them.”

Recently the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples state-level spousal rights and responsibilities. Since that time, the Human Rights Campaign has joined forces with Garden State Equality and other coalition groups to prompt the Legislature to extend full marriage equality to same-sex couples.

The court ruled that the Legislature must either amend its marriage law to include same-sex couples or provide these rights and responsibilities by some other means such as civil unions.

“We knew the fight for marriage would neither be easy nor quick, but the country is on a clear trajectory toward equality and we must never give up until we reach that point,” said Mr Solmonese. “It is incumbent upon us to continue the energy and dedication we have brought to this fight since day one. And we must not stop until we achieve full equality.”

When Mr Corzine signs Senate Bill 362 into law, New Jersey will become the ninth state to ban discrimination against transgender individuals.

“HRC provided funds that proved instrumental to the success of legislation to protect transgender workers in New Jersey,” said Barbra Casbar, political director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey. “Their resources enabled us to do proactive educational and political outreach and participate on an equal basis with our statewide LGBT and progressive partners in delivering the message of full LGBTI equality.

“We thank the Human Rights Campaign for their crucial financial assistance and educational resources.”