Recognition of same-sex unions in New Jersey

Recognition of same-sex unions in New Jersey
Legal recognition of
same-sex relationships


South Africa

Performed in some jurisdictions

Mexico: Mexico City
United States: CT, DC, IA, MA, NH, NY, VT, Coquille, Suquamish

Recognized, not performed

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Sint Maarten (Netherlands only)
United States: CA (conditional), MD

Civil unions and
registered partnerships

Czech Republic
- New Caledonia
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Isle of Man
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United Kingdom

Performed in some jurisdictions

Australia: ACT, NSW, TAS, VIC
Mexico: COA
United States: CA, CO, DE, HI, IL, ME, NJ, NV, OR, RI, WA, WI

Unregistered cohabitation



Recognized in some jurisdictions

United States: MD

See also

Same-sex marriage
Same-sex marriage legislation
Timeline of same-sex marriage
Recognition of same-sex unions in Europe
Marriage privatization
Civil union
Domestic partnership
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Recognition of same-sex unions in New Jersey is legal in the form of civil unions in that state.

New Jersey was one of the first states to implement a domestic partnerships scheme, after California, in 2003. Gay rights advocates, brought the issues before the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis v. Harris in 2006. The judges struck down the domestic partership arrangement, and split 4 to 3 to allow the legislature to pass civil unions instead of allowing gay marriage. In December 2006, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill providing for civil unions and recognizing other states' civil unions.

Reports by the New Jersey State Bar Association and local newspapers have found that civil unions are not widely recognized and fail to provide equal treatment. The Civil Union Review Commission created by the Civil Union Act has also found this, and recommends gender-neutral marriage laws as a remedy.[1]

In late 2009, Lame duck Governor Jon Corzine stated that he would sign a bill legalizing same-sex marriage if it came to his desk before he left office, while his newly elected Republican successor Chris Christie said that he would promote a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

A same-sex marriage bill was introduced to the legislature but was defeated in the Senate on January 7, 2010.[2] The current political situation makes Christie's amendment unlikely.[3]


Domestic Partnerships

The New Jersey Legislature enacted the Domestic Partnership Act, P.L.2003, c. 246, on January 12, 2004, which came into effect on July 10, 2004. The law made domestic partnerships available to all same-sex couples, as well as to different-sex couples aged 62 and older. The domestic partnership statute provides "limited healthcare, inheritance, property rights and other rights and obligations" but "[does] not approach the broad array of rights and obligations afforded to married couples."[4] For example, as Lambda Legal states, the law "required health and pension benefits [only] for state employees—it was voluntary for other employers—and did not require family leave to care for an ill partner."[5]

The domestic partnership statute remains in place even though New Jersey has since enacted a civil union statute. Couples in an existing domestic partnership are not required to enter a civil union. However, new domestic partnerships are available only to couples in which both partners are 62 and over, whether same-sex or different-sex.[4][5]

Civil Unions

Lewis v. Harris

On October 25, 2006, the Supreme Court of New Jersey unanimously ruled in Lewis v. Harris that the "unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our State Constitution." With the Harris decision, gay couples were granted the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as heterosexual couples with respect to their relationships.

While the decision was widely reported as a 4-3 split, the differences between the Justices on the Court were on whether only the provision of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples would resolve the constitutional defect, or whether another change in statute would pass constitutional scrutiny. The Court avoided the question of what to call the legal status, leaving that to, as the majority stated, the "crucible of the democratic process."

The dissent, led by then-Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz, chastised the junior members of the Court who said that anything other than marriage would provide equal rights: "What we name things matters, language matters...Labels set people apart surely as physical separation on a bus or in school facilities...By excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage, the State declares that it is legitimate to differentiate between their commitments and the commitments of heterosexual couples. Ultimately the message is that what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as real marriage, that such lesser relationships cannot have the name of marriage."

The court gave the state legislature six months to enact legislation providing for civil unions.

Civil Union Act

On December 14, 2006, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill providing for civil unions[6] which was signed into law by the Governor Jon Corzine on December 21, 2006. The Civil Union Act came into effect on February 19, 2007.

Same-sex couples who enter into a civil union are provided almost all of the rights granted to married couples under New Jersey state law. However, under the provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, same-sex couples in marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships do not have any right or entitlement to the 1,138 rights that a married couple has under federal law.[7]

The law provides[6] for the creation of a Civil Unions Review Commission that will evaluate the law's effectiveness and any problems resulting therefrom, and will report every six months for three years following enactment to assess the impact of the law. The first meeting of the Civil Unions Review Commission took place on June 18, 2007. The Commission elected a chair, Frank Vespa-Papaleo, the current Director of the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, and the Commission plans on meeting monthly as well as conducting periodic public meetings.[8]

According to the new civil union law,[6] when a same-sex couple receives a civil union, their domestic partnership is automatically terminated by the civil union. However, those couples who remain in domestic partnerships and elect to not enter into a civil union will be allowed to remain as domestic partners.


The New Jersey State Bar Association took a formal position against the adoption of Civil Unions law, citing inherent and obvious problems and confusion the law has for the state's citizens and the legal representation. In addition, the NJSBA formally endorsed the marriage bill proposed by openly gay Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, saying that only marriage equality would meet the standard mandated by the NJ Supreme Court in its Lewis decision.

In addition, newspapers have also covered the apparent failure of the civil union law, once it became effective on February 19, 2007, to provide equal protection consistently to same-sex couples in New Jersey. The New York Times, the Star-Ledger and the Bergen Record have each done investigative stories on employers and insurers failing to provide benefits to civil unioned couples.

During the first 90 days of the law, 852 same-sex couples entered civil-unions, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. During the same 90 days, the LGBT civil rights organization Garden State Equality reported that it has received alleged complaints from 102 couples denied benefits by employers or insurers.

On May 22, 2007, the Star-Ledger reported that the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights has received at least 270 inquiries from civil-unioned couples denied benefits by employers or insurers. As of June 18, 2007, however, only two complaints had actually been filed with the NJ Division of Civil Rights, it was reported at the first meeting of the Civil Unions Review Commission.

Denial of benefits by employers

According to the LGBT civil rights organization Garden State Equality, by the end of July 2007, 211 of the 1,358 couples (1 out of 7) who had entered New Jersey civil unions since February 19 had "reported to Garden State Equality that their employers refused to recognize their civil unions."[9] Among the companies flouting state law were shipping companies UPS, FedEx, and DHL, as well as a number of Fortune 500 companies.

UPS spokesman Norman Black had claimed that the company's collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters union, representing about 8,700 UPS employees in New Jersey, stood in the way of extending benefits to same-sex partners: "the company's current union contract specifies that the benefits can only be extended to 'spouses,' but that New Jersey's civil unions law doesn't specifically call civil union partners 'spouses.'"[10]

On July 20, 2007, Governor Jon Corzine sent a letter to UPS officials on behalf of a UPS driver and her partner, asking the company to comply with New Jersey law and extend spousal benefits such as health insurance to civil union partners. On July 30, Allen Hill, UPS's senior vice president for human resources, announced, "We have received clear guidance that, at least in New Jersey, the state truly views civil union partners as married. We've heard that loud and clear from state officials and we're happy to make this change."[11]

The company also noted that it already offers equality of benefits to married same-sex couples in Massachusetts, and would review its policies in Connecticut and Vermont, which also offer civil unions (and have since enacted legislation legalizing same-sex marriage).

Same sex marriage

The commission formed to review whether civil unions have brought equality to same sex couples has determined that civil unions have failed to provide equal treatment. On December 10, 2008, the Commission unanimously released its finding that marriage laws should be made gender neutral to ensure equal treatment of same sex couples.[1] Governor Corzine had indicated that he would sign a bill to allow same-sex marriage.[12]

On December 7, 2009, the New Jersey Senate Judicial Committee approved a civil marriage equality bill by a vote of 7 to 6, after seven hours of testimony and debate. It was amended in committee to clarify that clergy would not be required to perform weddings for same-sex couples. On January 7, 2010 the New Jersey State Senate defeated the measure in a 20-14 vote.

On June 29, 2011, Lambda Legal filed suit in Superior Court on behalf Garden State Equality, seven same-sex couples, and several of their children, arguing that New Jersey's civil unions do not provide the same rights as marriage as required by the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision in Lewis v. Harris (2006).[13]

Recognition of out-of-state relationships

New Jersey recognizes some same-sex relationships contracted out of state as either equivalent to and having the same legal force as New Jersey civil unions, where they "provide substantially all the rights and benefits of marriage", or as equivalent and having the same legal force as New Jersey domestic partnerships, where they "provide some but not all of the rights and obligations of marriage").[14]

Economic Impact of Extending Marriage to Same Sex Couples

A UCLA study estimates the potential economic impact of same-sex marriage on the State of New Jersey and concludes that the gain would be substantial. If New Jersey were to give same-sex couples the right to marry, that is marriage itself and not civil unions, the State would likely experience a surge in spending on weddings by same-sex couples who currently live in New Jersey, as well as an increase in wedding and tourist spending by same-sex couples from other states. The analysis outlined in detail in the report predicts that sales by New Jersey’s wedding and tourism-related businesses would rise by $102.5 million in each of the first three years when marriage for same-sex couples is legal.[15] As a result, the State’s gross receipt tax revenues would rise by $7.2 million per year, and 1,400 new jobs would be created in relevant industries.[16]

Public opinion

Same-Sex Marriage in New Jersey
Polling Firm Month Link Favor Oppose
Rutgers-Eagleton October 2011 [1] 52 39
Rutgers-Eagleton August 2011 [2] 52 32
Public Policy Polling July 2011 [3] 47 42
Quinnipiac November 2009 [4] 46 49
RutgersEagleton November 2009 [5] 50 42
Quinnipiac April 2009 [6] 49 43
Zogby International August 2008 [7] 50 42
Zogby International August 2007 [8] 48.1 44.6
Rasmussen Reports July 2006 [9] 42 54
Rutgers-Eagleton June 2006 PDF 49 44
Zogby International February 2006 [10] 56 39
Zogby International April 2005 HTML 54.5 40.1
Rutgers-Eagleton September 2003 PDF 43 50
Zogby International July 2003 [11] 55 41

Not all polling questions are the same. The 2009 Rutgers poll that found more support asks if voters will accept a decision by the legislature to legalize same-sex marriage,[17] while the 2006 Rasmussen Reports survey that found more opposed asks whether voters personally define marriage as a union of a man and a woman or between a union of two people.[18] A Zogby International poll conducted in April 2005 asked about same-sex couples married outside of the state. 57.5% felt the marriages should be recognized, 37.2% thought the State shouldn't recognize them, and 5.3% weren't sure.[19] New Jerseyans supported civil unions in 2006 before the passage of the Civil Unions Act, with 66% in favor and 29% opposed.[20]

A July 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 81% of New Jersey voters supported legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 41% supporting same-sex marriage and 40% supporting civil unions, while only 17% opposed all legal recognition and 2% were not sure.[21]

New Jersey trends mirrored national trends, in that women, young people, Latinos, people with a college education,[20] and people who know gay men and lesbians were more supportive of same-sex marriage than men, the elderly, blacks, people without a college education, and those who do not know any gay men or lesbians were most opposed. However, gay marriage was not seen as an "important issue" by the latter groups, and the Eagleton Institute found that they were not likely to be source of opposition to the bill if it passed.[17] In New Jersey, a majority of Democrats support same-sex marriage, a majority of Republicans are opposed, and a plurality of Independents favor same-sex marriage.[22]

See also

  • LGBT rights in New Jersey


  1. ^ a b Livio and Heiniger (December 10, 2008). "Commission says New Jersey should allow gay marriage". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved December 10, 2008. 
  2. ^ Kocieniewski, David (January 8, 2010). "New Jersey Senate Defeats Gay Marriage Bill". New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2010. 
  3. ^ "GOP victory in NJ ensures focus on gay marriage". Morris County Daily Record. Retrieved November 4, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b Rabner, Stuart (February 17, 2007). "Formal Opinion" (PDF). Attorney General (New Jersey). Retrieved July 24, 2007. 
  5. ^ a b "Civil Unions for Same-sex Couples in New Jersey" (PDF). (Lambda Legal). 2007. Retrieved July 31, 2007. 
  6. ^ a b c "New Jersey Public Law 2006, c.103" (PDF). New Jersey Legislature. 2006. Retrieved July 31, 2007. 
  7. ^ "Defense of Marriage Act: Update to Prior Report, Letter to Senator Bill Frist" (PDF). General Accounting Office. United States. January 23, 2004. Retrieved April 28, 2007. 
  8. ^ "The New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission". Division on Civil Rights. Trenton, NJ: State of New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety: Office of the Attorney General. January 20, 2009. Retrieved April 22, 2009. 
  9. ^ "As UPS caves in, Fed Ex, DHL and scores of other companies continue to flaunt New Jersey's civil unions law,", July 30, 2007
  10. ^ "Corzine urges UPS to honor civil unions," Asbury Park Press, July 21, 2007
  11. ^ "UPS changes policy, gives benefits to partners of gay N.J. workers," USA Today, July 31, 2007
  12. ^ "Panel says New Jersey should allow gay marriage," Reuters, 12/10/08
  13. ^ Newark Star-Ledger: Matt Friedman, "Advocates file lawsuit hoping to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey," Juen 29, 2011, accessed June 29, 2011
  14. ^ Office of the Attorney General: Formal Opinion No. 3-2007, February 16, 2007, accessed June 29, 2011
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b Redlawsk, David (November 18, 2009). "Rugters–Eagleton Poll Finds New Jerseyans Support Legalizing Gay Marriage". Eagleton Institute of Politics. Retrieved December 5, 2009. 
  18. ^ Same-Sex Marriage: Garden State’s Highest Court Approves Rights for Gay Couples
  19. ^ Many Back Same-Sex Marriage In New Jersey
  20. ^ a b Poll Results
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Same-Sex Marriage Loses Support In New Jersey, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Judge Judges On Qualifications, Voters Tell Christie". Quinnipiac University. November 25, 2009. Retrieved December 5, 2009. 

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