Civil Rights Measure Would Bring Equal Treatment to All Couples
Assembly members Connie Wagner and Tim Eustace, two of the sponsors of democratic legislation to protect the civil rights of same-sex couples and their families in New Jersey, today implored the Assembly Judiciary Committee to help put an end to the “separate but equal” system that currently exists as the panel listens to lengthy testimony on marriage equality.
“Denying rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples that are statutorily given to their heterosexual counterparts violates the equal protection guarantee of our state constitution,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “Yet, through testimony and overwhelming evidence, the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission found that numerous employers in New Jersey have denied equal benefits to civil union partners because of the deprivation of marriage equality, and that numerous hospitals in New Jersey have denied visitation and medical decision rights to civil union partners because of the deprivation of marriage equality. This is wrong.”
“It’s unfortunate that under the current civil union system, same sex couples are forced to have to explain and justify their relationships each and every day, and more unfortunate when it’s during a time of duress,” said Eustace (D-Bergen). “My partner and I have been together over three decades and have raised two sons. By every traditional definition we are a family, except when it comes to our recognition under state law. I hope the state will put an end to this discrimination once and for all and make New Jersey a true leader in equality,”
The bill (A-1) – the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act – which 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.
The sponsors noted 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.
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, Reed Gusciora, Mila Jasey, John McKeon, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Jason O’Donnell, and John Wisniewski.
It would take effect on the 60th day following enactment.