New Jersey panel commissioned to study civil unions has concluded that the state should allow same-sex couples to marry because civil unions are inherently unequal from marriage.

The New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission issued a report today after holding 18 public meetings, listening to 26 hours of oral testimony and receiving hundreds of pages of written submissions from more than 150 witnesses. The commission found that "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 recognize the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples."

New Jersey has allowed same-sex civil unions since February, 2007. The review commission was established at the same time to evaluate the effectiveness of the civil union law, which was intended to provide gay couples with the same benefits and responsibilities of heterosexual marriage.

New Jersey was the third state in the nation to allow civil unions.

Contact Inquirer staff writer Adrienne Lu at 609-989-8990 or alu @phillynews.com