Civil Rights Bill Would Bring Equal Treatment to All Couples
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, the lead Assembly sponsor of democratic legislation to create true marriage equality and protect the civil rights of same-sex couples and their families who have suffered at the hands of a “separate but equal” testified before the Assembly Judiciary Committee today, urging the panel to approve the measure.
“The creation of civil unions has produced a separate-but-equal system, and as we know from our history classes, separate-but-equal is as unconstitutional as it is inherently unequal,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer). “Why is it that a same-sex couple in another state such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Massachusetts or New York, can be duly married, yet when they cross the border into New Jersey they become civil unionized? A marriage law in New Jersey would make a significant difference in providing equality and dignity to same-sex couples and their children.”
The bill (A-1) – titled the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act – would eliminate the civil unions that have been in place since 2007, but have failed to provide equal treatment to New Jersey’s same-sex couples, and instead define marriage as the legally recognized union of two consenting people in a committed relationship.
The legislation also expressly stipulates that no clergy of any religion authorized to solemnize marriage, nor any religious society, institution or organization in the state, would be required to conduct any marriage in violation of their free exercise of religion.
Presently, six states and the District of Columbia, together comprising 35 million Americans, allow same-sex couples to marry.
The bill includes a religious exemption stating that no member of the clergy of any religion authorized to solemnize marriage and no religious society, institution or organization in this state shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“As expected, this legislation has inspired passionate debate,” added Gusciora. “But it’s important to keep in mind that this bill is also about religious freedom – the right for religious institutions to exercise their own beliefs and the right for individuals to not have anyone else’s religious beliefs imposed on them. In creating true marriage equality, ultimately this law affirms two basic principles of our constitution – the right to equal protection under the law and to exercise religious freedom.”
It also includes another religious exemption stating that no religious society, institution or organization in this state serving a particular faith or denomination shall be compelled to provide space, services, advantages, goods or privileges related to the solemnization, celebration or promotion of marriage if such solemnization, celebration or promotion of marriage is in violation of the beliefs of such religious society, institution or organization.
Also, the bill states that no civil claim or cause of action against any religious society, institution or organization, or any employee thereof, shall arise out of any refusal to provide space, services, advantages, goods or privileges.
Under the bill, partners who have previously established a civil union may apply for a marriage license and would receive the license immediately, without the usual 72-hour waiting period between application for, and issuance of, the license. The usual fees for a marriage license would apply to same sex couples.
The bill is also sponsored by Assembly Democratic lawmakers Speaker Sheila Oliver, Connie Wagner, Mila Jasey, John McKeon, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Jason O’Donnell, John Wisniewski and Timothy Eustace.
It would take effect on the 60th day following enactment.