Commission established to study effectiveness of civil union law in New Jersey says unions create ‘second-class status’ for same-sex couples
MOUNT LAUREL, New Jersey A commission established to study same-sex civil unions in New Jersey has found in its first report that civil unions create a "second-class status" for gay couples, rather than giving them equality.
The report stops short of recommending that the state allow gay marriage. But it does find that gay couples in Massachusetts, the only U.S. state that now allows same-sex marriage, do not experience some of the legal complications that those in New Jersey do.
State lawmakers made New Jersey the third state to offer civil unions with a law adopted in 2006 in reaction to a state Supreme Court ruling that year that found gay couples were entitled to the same legal protections as married couples.
The civil union law sought to give gay couples those benefits, but not the title of marriage. As a part of the same law, the review commission was created to look into whether it was working.
The issue of same sex marriage and gay civil unions remains highly contentious in the U.S. Only one state, Massachusetts, recognizes gay marriage as a civil right and nine other states have approved some for of spousal rights for gay couples.
Gay rights advocates say the civil unions do not deliver and have pledged to push lawmakers to vote to allow marriage. Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he would be willing to sign such a bill into law but does not want the issue to be taken up before November presidential elections.
Corzine is not up for re-election this year.
The activists say civil unions, in practice, do not offer the legal protections that marriage does. The commission largely agreed with them.
The commission held three public hearings last year at which the majority of the testimony came from people who were in civil unions and said they were still not being treated the way married couples are by government agencies, employers and others.
For instance, the commission found that many companies in the state that are self-insured and therefore are regulated by federal, rather than state, law refuse to provide health insurance to the partners of their employees.
While employers in Massachusetts could legally do the same thing, most do not, according to the report.
The commission also finds that many people in the state do not understand civil unions, which create a "second-class status."
The commission’s report says the misunderstanding of civil unions makes it more difficult for a child to grow up in New Jersey with gay parents, or to be gay themselves.
Through Jan. 19, 2,329 couples had received civil union licenses, according to the state Health and Senior Services Department.
Some social conservatives have said the commission is slanted in favor of allowing gay marriage, and opponents of gay marriage have been pushing back in New Jersey.
Roman Catholic churches around the state have been planning special prayers on marriage for Sunday. A major aim is to promote marriage as being between only a man and a woman.
A conservative Princeton group, the National Organization for Marriage, has aired radio commercials that say allowing gay marriage would undermine some religious teachings that homosexuality is wrong.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, February 22, 2008.