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NJ: Civil unions are a separate and unequal failure

As marriage equality advocates predicted, after the Garden State’s highest court ruled that the state must provide same-sex couples the same benefits as opposite sex married couples, the New Jersey legislature’s decision to create civil unions rather than open marriage to gays and lesbians has produced clear evidence that separate is not equal.

Since CUs went into effect five months ago, a Civil Unions Review Commission has been documenting complaints of “civil unioned” couples that have encountered discrimination when attempting to receive benefits normally granted without question to straight couples. Dana of Mombian passed on this email from Garden State Equality:

As of today, five months after New Jersey’s Civil Union Law took effect, at least 1 in every 7 civil-unioned couples in New Jersey is being denied equal protection under the law. 

In today’s meeting of the New Jersey Civil Unions Review Commission, the state registrar reported that 1,359 couples have gotten civil-unioned in New Jersey since the law took affect on February 19, 2007.

During the same five-month period, 191 civil-unioned couples have reported to Garden State Equality that their employers refuse to recognize their civil unions.  That is a 14 percent, or 1 in 7, failure rate, at least.

During the first four months of the law, the failure rate had been at least 1 in 8, demonstrating that employers have not increased their acceptance of the law as they’ve become more familiar with it.  Employers are actually becoming more resistant.

“What society would tolerate a law’s failing 1 in 7 times?” said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality.  “If New Jersey’s Civil Unions Law were a person, it would be arrested for committing fraud.”

More below the fold.Personally, I’ve always said that if I received the all the rights of marriage without the name, it wouldn’t matter to me. However, it’s clear that that the word “marriage” is meaningful in this culture for the civil institution, never mind the religious institution, in a way that civil unions will never be. More from the Garden State Equality email:

The Star-Ledger recently ran a front-page story, picked up by news organizations across the country, on how one company, United Parcel Service, refuses to provide equal benefits to civil-unioned employees in New Jersey even though UPS provides equal benefits to its employees in Massachusetts who are married to same-sex spouses there.

Today’s new numbers demonstrate that the failure of New Jersey’s civil unions law goes way beyond UPS.  The 191 cases that have come to Garden State Equality involve almost 191 companies.

Many of these companies point to a provision in Federal law that allows them to ignore the laws of various states that recognize same-sex relationships. This begs the question: If Federal law is the problem, what difference would it make to call same-sex relationships “marriage” rather than “civil union”?

A big difference.  The Washington Post recently did an investigation in which it reported that companies in Massachusetts are hardly ever using federal law as an excuse to deny equal benefits to same-sex couples married in that state.  Even with the problem of federal law, same-sex couples married in Massachusetts, as that state’s law allows are getting equality.  Civil-unioned couples in New Jersey are not.

“Month after month, as new statistics of the Civil Unions Law’s failure are released, there’s tragically no improvement in acceptance of the law,” said Goldstein.  “Civil unions just don’t work in the real world.  Marriage is the only currency of commitment the real world consistently accepts.  And the only way to New Jersey will ever see equality is to give same-sex and opposite sex couples the same freedom to marry.”

So, for all the presidential candidates out there who feel comfortable with civil unions and a partial DOMA rollback (listening Hillary and John Edwards?) — federal recognition won’t help anyone with a civil union if a company wishes to discriminate. It will be an endless series of conflicts — a legal morass that will end up in the Supreme Court, which will threaten any hope of equality, given the justices on the bench now.

Read more at BlueJersey.

* Committee hears that NJ’s civil unions are not equal to marriage (June ’07)
* Civil unions: more on less

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding