A commission set up to study the effect on same-sex couples, their children and other family members of being provided civil unions rather than marriage has issued its final report.

The New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission (NJ-CURC) was established by the state Legislature pursuant to the Civil Union Act, which took effect in February 2007.

Civil unions were introduced in New Jersey after the state Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to equal civil rights.

The court left it up to the state Legislature whether that would mean marriage or civil unions.

The commission studied all aspects of the Act and concluded that civil unions are unequal.

“We, the thirteen members of the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission, unanimously issue this final report, containing a set of recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature of the State of New Jersey,” the report read.

“After eighteen public meetings, 26 hours of oral testimony and hundreds of pages of written submission from more than 150 witnesses, this Commission finds that the separate categorisation established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children.

“In a number of cases, the negative effect of the Civil Union Act on the physical and mental health of same-sex couples and their children is striking, largely because a number of employers and hospitals do not recognise the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples.”

The commission said that civil unions send “the same message that racial segregation laws wrongfully sent. Separate treatment was wrong then and it is just as wrong now.

“The Commission is compelled to issue its final report now because of the overwhelming evidence that civil unions will not be recognised by the general public as the equivalent of marriage in New Jersey with the passage of time.”

The Governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine, backed the commission’s conclusions.

“While this administration is focused squarely on the economic crisis for the foreseeable future, it’s clear that this issue of civil rights must be addressed sooner rather than later,” he said.

Opponents of gay marriage have attacked the commission’s conclusions.

“The CURC’s argument that redefining marriage would not cause any economic fallout is laughable, and the insinuation that children would somehow benefit from society equating same-sex unions to marriage is sadly false,” said Toni Meyer, Director of Research for “traditional family” group the New Jersey Family Protection Council.

“Society should not be equating same-sex unions to marriage, because they are not equal in benefit to anyone.

“In Scandinavia, where same-sex unions have been legal longest, government data shows that same-sex unions break up at a significantly higher rate, valid research shows that children raised in these households are more confused about their sexual identity, and more likely to be promiscuous, and LGB youth are more likely to experience teen pregnancy.”

The first state Governor to come out as gay was from New Jersey.

Jim McGreevey made his dramatic announcement at a televised press conference four years ago, telling reporters : “My truth is that I am a gay American.”

He made a public confession of an affair with his former homeland security advisor, Golan Cipel and left office two months later, in November 2004.

Gay marriage is legal in two US states, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

It was legal in California after a state Supreme Court decision in May.

Voters in the state approved a ballot measure denying same-sex couples the right to marry in November.

The ballot’s legality is being challenged in the state Supreme Court.