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Same-sex marriage in New Jersey

Civil union bill and law: 2006/7

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Earlier information about the case

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Action by the government:

As noted previously, the Supreme Court of New Jersey unanimously ruled that the equal protection clause of the state constitution guarantees all of its  citizens equal protection of the laws, regardless of sex. Also, children must receive equal protection, whether their parents are of the same sex or opposite-sex. Thus existing laws regarding marriage were thus unconstitutional.

On 2006-DEC-14, both chambers of the New Jersey legislature considered a bill to bring the laws regarding marriage in line with the requirements of the state constitution by legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples. The bill states that a same-sex couple entering into a civil union:

"shall have all of the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage." 3

Most legislators obeyed their oath of office, which includes the obligation to follow the New Jersey constitution. The vote was 59 to 19 in the Assembly and 23 to 12 in the Senate in favor of the bill's passage. An redundant amendment that would have defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman was defeated. That amendment was unrelated to the civil union bill, because the rest of the bill did not use the term "marriage," or refer to marriage in any way. A second amendment by Senator Robert Martin (R) which would have legalized same-sex marriage was also defeated.

The law gives "civil unionized" same-sex couples the same state rights, responsibilities and obligations as opposite-sex married couples have received in a number of areas: adoption, inheritance, hospital visitation and medical decision-making. They are not require to testify against a partner in state court.

The Family Research Council (FRC), a fundamentalist Christian group, referred to this action as "New Jersey's 'Civil' War." They wrote that the legislature has: "legitimizing a dangerous counterfeit at the expense of traditional marriage." They said that the New Jersey legislators exhibited "cowardly compliance" by creating "... a gutless precedent of surrendering the constitutional role to judicial oligarchy, unchecked by and unaccountable to the people." They apparently expected the legislators to violate their oath of office and create a constitutional crisis in the state.

Governor Jon S. Corzine (D) signed the legislation into law on 2006-DEC-21 giving same-sex couples all of the state rights and responsibilities routinely given to opposite-sex couples in the past. 8 He said:

"We must recognize that many gay and lesbian couples in New Jersey are in committed relationships and deserve the same benefits and rights as every other family in this state."

The law came into effect on 2007-FEB-19. It gives same-sex couples the option of entering into a civil union and receiving all of the state benefits and obligations of marriage. They will not receive the over 1,000 federal benefits and obligations of marriage as the FRC implied when they said that the bill "... grants homosexual partners the same rights as married couples." Same-sex couples will not be able to collect a deceased partner's Social Security benefits. That is reserved to opposite-sex couples only.

There was a 60 day interval after the signing of the bill into law before couples could obtain a civil union.

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Reactions to the law:

bullet Veronica Hoff, 52, of Mount Laurel attended the bill signing. She said:

"It's a step forward, but it's not true equality." 1

bullet John Tomicki, president of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage said that a civil union is:

"... same-sex marriage without the title. It uproots the cardinal values of our culture." 1

bullet Robert Ellman of the Intrepid Liberal Journal wrote about Governor Jon Corzine:

"I must express appreciation however for his willingness to sign into law a civil unions bill passed today by New Jersey's state legislature. This will make New Jersey the third state, after Vermont and Connecticut, to offer civil unions, which extend to gay men and lesbians all the rights state law affords married people. Sadly the bill does not recognize gay marriage."

"I don't blame homosexuals for wondering: 'Why can't we be granted the same status?' They're right to feel that way and it's a disgrace gay marriage is regarded with such vehemence. For the time being, homosexual couples will at least have the same rights as married couples in New Jersey. Hopefully, that is something to build on. 2

bullet Steven Goldstein, director of Equality New Jersey, said that civil unions are a mixed blessing for same-sex couples in the state. There is no guarantee that non-government entities would honor the decision.
bullet David Buckel, marriage project director at Lambda Legal and lead attorney on the Lewis v. Harris marriage lawsuit  said:

"By passing a law that marks same-sex couples as inferior, the government has paved the way for others to discriminate against them." 3

bullet State Senator Loretta Weinberg (D), a sponsor of the bill, said: "This should be called what it is — 'marriage'."  She said that the title should be changed after some time has passed during which legislators can study how the civil unions bill works in practice. 4
bullet Mayors in New Jersey are not required to marry opposite-sex couples. But if they marry one couple, they have to be available to marry all couples. There was some confusion about how this policy would impact civil unions. Mayor Steve Lonegan of Bogota said he would not perform civil unions. He said:

"This is the first time in history an American is being told to perform a ritualistic ceremony no matter what you believe in. I'm not doing it. I'm daring them to make me do it."

bullet John Bohrer wrote on the Huffington Post:

"Lonegan forgets that he is a civil servant, and is performing a legal -- not religious -- function. Though, as it turns out, right-wingers like Lonegan will be lending a hand to same-sex couples. Challenging this discriminatory law could knock it down and accelerate the pace at which New Jersey approaches marriage equality."

bullet To which "LittleBrother" responded:

"One would wish that this nation long ago learned the hard lesson that 'separate but equal,' no matter how conciliatory and win-win it seems at first glance, is simply wrong and ultimately unworkable. It belongs in the Museum of Fatally Flawed Misconceptions, next to the flat-earth diagrams, apartheid, and 'don't ask, don't tell'."

"Maybe this abysmally reactionary, bigoted pipsqueak official is doing civilization a favor by objecting to this lame faux-compromise before the ink is even dry." 5

bullet On FEB-19, Ed Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey said:

"It is a wonderful moment and a step toward equality. Yet it also marks a sad and unfulfilling moment in the history of our state, as it is the day in which we officially institutionalize discrimination." 9

bullet On FEB-23, Covenant News, a fundamentalist Christian news agency reported on civil unions in New Jersey. We reprint their abstract below to indicate the degree of anger and hatred expressed by many social and religious conservatives against equal rights for gays, lesbians and bisexuals:

"Sodomites across New Jersey began claiming the same legal rights as married couples early Thursday in ceremonies that formalized their deviant behavior as civil unions. The state law establishing civil unions for the lewd malefactors took effect Monday. But because there is a 72-hour waiting period after applying for a license, most abomination had to wait until Thursday to hold civil union ceremonies. New Jersey is the third state in the nation to make a man's wife equal to a cankered sodomite, by giving homosexuals the protections and benefits of marriage. Vermont and Connecticut also offer civil unions, and California offers domestic partnerships with similar benefits. Massachusetts is the only state to allow sodomite 'marriages'." 10

The law went into effect on 2007-FEB-19. Under New Jersey law, there is a mandatory 72 hour waiting period between obtaining a license and actually being civil unionized; this is the same interval as for opposite-sex couples getting married. Since this was President's Day -- a state holiday -- couples were able first to be unionized starting on Friday, FEB-23. The state does not have a residency requirement for civil unions -- the same arrangement as for marriages. So couples from out of state can come to New Jersey to be unionized.

Garden State Equality, a gay-positive agency promoting equality for gays and lesbians, suggests that:

"After you get civil unioned, contact Garden State Equality immediately should you ever find your civil union not recognized in New Jersey, whether by a hospital, employer, public accommodation or any other institution. That will help us demonstrate why we need real marriage equality." 6,7

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The case continues

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Tom Hester Jr., "N.J. governor signs gay civil unions law," Associated Press, 2006-DEC-21, at:
  2. Robert Ellman, "New Jersey governor Jon Corzine to sign civil unions bill," Intrepid Liberal Journal, 2006-DEC-14, at:
  3. "N.J. lawmakers OK civil unions, not same-sex marriage,", 2006-DEC-14, at:
  4. "New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine to Sign Bill Legalizing Gay Unions," Associated Press, 2006-DEC-15, at:
  5. John Bohrer, " NJ civil unions: Dead on arrival?" Huffington Post, 2007-FEB-20, at:
  6. "Garden State Equality's 'Practical Guide to Civil Unions'," WABC, 2006-DEC-21, at:
  7. Contact information for Garden State Equality is: Phone: 973.GSE.LGBT. Email:  Address: Garden State Equality, 67 Church Street, Montclair, New Jersey 07042. You may donate online at
  8. Pete Winn, "Civil Unions not enough for New Jersey gays," Focus on the Family, 2007-FEB-19, at:
  9. Ruth Padawer & William Lamb, "Gay couple marks milestone, then returns to the campaign," Record, Northern New Jersey, 2007-FEB-20, at:
  10. "sodomites formalize civil unions in N.J.," Covenant News, 2007-FEB-22, at: This is a temporary listing.

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Copyright 2006 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Parts originally written: 2006-DEC
Latest update: 2013-OCT-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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