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Religious Tolerance logo

Civil unions and same-sex marriage (SSM)


Civil unions & same-sex marriage in New Jersey

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Within North America, same-sex marriage (SSM) was first legalized in Massachusetts during 2004, and later across all of Canada in 2005. Normally, it is the central government of a country that legalizes SSM in all of its states or provinces simultaneously. It is only in the U.S. and Mexico that marriage equality must be attained one state at a time.

In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court recognized that existing state statutes violated the state Constitution. It ordered the Legislature to create legislation to grant same-sex couples state rights equal to opposite-sex couples in order to meet the Constitution's anti-discrimination clauses. The Legislature decided to create a system of civil unions so that registered same-sex couples could theoretically receive all of the state's benefits and protections. It did not work well in practice, because while the general population knows exactly what a marriage is, people have never learned about the status and nature of civil unions.

During 2011-JUN, a bill was introduced to the New Jersey Assembly to legalize SSM. It was passed by the Senate and Assembly but was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie (R). The legislature was then faced with three options:

  • It could try to persuade the Governor to cancel his veto. However there are rumors that he may run for the Presidency in 2014. If he were to allow SSM in New Jersey, his chances to be nominated as the Republican candidate would be essentially zero.

  • It could try to override the Governor's veto at any time until 2014-JAN. This requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate. Both houses are about 60% Democrat, so even if all of the Democratic legislators supported SSM, some Republican votes would be required to attain marriage equality. This is a very difficult task.

  • It can authorize a plebiscite to be held on election day in 2013-NOV or 2014-NOV to have the public vote on the matter. It would almost certainly succeed because public support for SSM in New Jersey is approaching 65%. This is the option preferred by the public and the Governor, but was opposed by many LGBT groups and religious liberals who feel that basic civil rights like the right to marry should not be voted upon by the public.

Meanwhile, a second front was opened in the battle for marriage equality: a lawsuit to legalize SSM through the state court system.

In 2013-JUN, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the main section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. This made married same-sex couples in the U.S. able to take advantage of 1,138 federal programs and protections. However, same-sex couples who were only "civil unionized" were eligible for none.

On 2013-SEP-27, Judge Mary C. Jacobson of the NJ Superior Court in Mercer County ruled that, in order to give same-sex couples equal rights and protections, New Jersey must allow same-sex couples to be able to marry. She set a date of 2013-OCT-21 for the first marriage licenses to be sold to same-sex couples.

Initially, Governor Chris Christie (R) threw the full resources of his administration in a desperate effort to try to stay -- and also appeal -- Judge Jacobson's ruling, in the hopes of maintaining marriage inequality. But a few days after the state Supreme Court refused to issue a stay, and marriage equality had began, Governor Christie threw in the towel. He ordered the administration's appeals withdrawn.

Barring a massive change in religious beliefs in New Jersey, marriage equality appears to have come to the state permanently. It is the 14th state to do so, along with the District of Columbia. A third of the population in the U.S. now has access to same-sex marriage.

Later in 2013, special sessions of the Legislatures of Hawaii and Illinois were held to vote on the legalization of SSM. Both resulted in the states achieving marriage equality. Efforts in other states are underway. There is a growing feeling shared by over 70% of the public that same-sex marriages will inevitably become available in every state within 5 or 10 years.

One suggested scenario is that a bunch of additional states will achieve marriage equality, public support for SSM will increase to beyond 60%, and opposition will decrease. Finally one of the SSM lawsuits in federal court will reach the U.S. Supreme Court who may make marriage equality universal across the U.S. like it did in 1967 for interracial marriage. The alternative would be to have, as of 2013-DEC-01, 34 individual state battles to approve SSM which would involve state legislatures, voter plebiscites and/or state court lawsuits for marriage equality until all of the states allow SSMs. That could take two or three decades in the case of Mississippi and similar religiously and socially conservative states.

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Topics covered in this section:


Early efforts leading up to the introduction of civil unions in 2007:


Public opinion polls concerning same-sex marriage and marriage equality:

bullet Is same-sex marriage next?

Attempts to legalize same-sex marriage:

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Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > here

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Copyright © 2002 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JUL-02
Latest update: 2013-OCT-21
Author: B.A. Robinson
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