A gay legal group has welcomed New Jersey’s introduction of a civil union bill, but has warned that it still creates inequality between homosexual and heterosexual couples.

The civil union bill, passed by the New Jersey Assembly and Senate this week, provides benefits like adoption and inheritance rights for same sex couples, but deliberately leaves out the word marriage.

It comes after the New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that it is unfair to discriminate against same sex couples.

However, David Buckel, Marriage Project Director at Lambda Legal, said the law is still unequal, “Although same-sex couples in New Jersey are better off today than yesterday, they are still not equal to other couples. Their relationships will likely continue to be disrespected.

“By passing a law that marks same-sex couples as inferior, the government has paved the way for others to discriminate against them.

“Just as we saw happen with couples whose domestic partnerships were not recognised, so too are we likely to see similar hardships for couples in civil unions.”

In its October decision the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously found that same-sex couples in New Jersey must have equal protection under the law and be granted the rights and responsibilities of marriage, but gave the legislature the opportunity to correct the violation.

If the legislature chose civil unions over marriage, the Court left open the question of whether or not that choice would be constitutional, reasoning that the legislature should have the chance to explain its decision.

The Court’s deadline expires on April 23, 2007.

In other news affecting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill banning discrimination against individuals based on their gender identity and expression.