TRENTON - Gov. Corzine yesterday said he had "significant concerns" about whether civil unions gave gay couples the same rights married couples have, but didn't back a quick change to state law.
A spokeswoman said the Democratic governor would sign a bill allowing gay marriage, but not until after November's presidential election.
"He will sign a bill, but doesn't want to make it a presidential-election-year issue," Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said.
Gay activists want gay marriage approved in New Jersey by year's end.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay-rights group, said a report by a state review commission that found civil unions create a second-class status for gay couples boosts activists' contentions that the unions don't work.
It found that gay couples in Massachusetts - the only state that allows gay marriage - don't experience the legal complications that those in New Jersey do.
"New Jersey's civil-union law segregates, discriminates, and humiliates the very people it is supposed to help," Goldstein said.
Goldstein said the group, which plans to run radio ads supporting gay marriage, received 568 complaints from couples that their employers or others were not respecting their civil unions.
About 2,300 couples have received civil unions in New Jersey. According to the report, that number includes 94 couples in Burlington County, 197 in Camden County, and 75 in Gloucester County.
"There should be one classic standard for all loving couples - marriage," Goldstein said.
Gay-marriage opponents said they were surprised neither by the report nor by the calls for gay marriage.
"In the end, the truth is, the homosexual lobby wants same-sex marriage for one reason - to use the power of the state to force heterosexuals to approve of homosexual activity and relationships," said Assemblyman Richard Merkt (R., Morris).
The law took effect a year ago and was meant to give same-sex couples marriage equality without the title.
Corzine said he looked forward to reviewing the report more closely and working with the commission and Legislature to ensure "basic principles of equal protection" for everyone.
"The report does raise significant concerns about whether the law has effectively granted same-sex couples the same rights and benefits of every other family in the state," Corzine said.
Corzine and New Jersey legislators made the state the third to offer civil unions under a 2006 law, which came after the state Supreme Court ruled gay couples should receive the same legal protections as married couples.
As a part of that law, the commission was created to look into whether it was working.
The commission found that many companies in the state that are self-insured - and thus regulated by federal rather than state law - refuse to provide health insurance to the partners of their employees.
"Civil-union status is not clear to the general public, which creates a second-class status," the report found.
Brian Brown, executive director of the Princeton-based National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage, said the commission was stacked in favor of gay marriage.
Brown said people are turned off by the idea of gay marriage, adding: "People don't want this."