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More on NJ Government Commission's report on the failure of civil unions

This important document will provide concrete evidence for the U.S. Supreme Court when it one day is faced with arguments for and against marriage equality. Every state that tries to pass a marriage amendment will have this report at its disposal.

But the heart of today’s report is its delineation of the harm that New Jersey’s civil union law has pro-actively inflicted upon same-sex couples.  

“I’m a pro-life Republican and past Director of Gloucester County Right-to-Life,” said Commission member AnnLynne Benson on the release of today’s report, “so I know the diversity of this Commission.  Our report demonstrates in exquisite detail why amending New Jersey’s law to extend marriage to same-sex couples is a necessity.  The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that ‘denying rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples violates the equal protection guarantee and can no longer be tolerated under our State constitution.’  Implementation of that ruling by the invention of a parallel status failed to deliver equality.  It was like planting a toothpick and hoping a tree would grow.”

More below the fold.

According to the final report, the civil union law’s harm to same-sex couples includes: 

The inability of a number of same-sex partners to visit one another in the hospital, and to make medical decisions for one another, because hospitals don’t accept civil unions as equal to marriage.   The Commission’s final report begins with the story of Naomi and Gina, a couple in Montclair, New Jersey who had a humiliating and life-threatening experience at a hospital.  Gina was admitted to the emergency room with cardiac arrhythmia, unable to give consent for treatment.  When Naomi arrived and said she was Gina’s partner, the doctor interrogated Naomi about the nature of the relationship and initially kept Naomi away from Gina and refused to let her give consent for Gina.  The report has other stories like this.

“Significant psychological damage” to the children raised same-sex couples because their families are given the stigmatizing label of civil union; and to LGBT youth who view themselves as inferior because they cannot marry.  “Their heartbreaking testimony,” the report states, “brings to life their struggle in a way that no numbers — whether complaints filed with government agencies or advocacy organizations — can encapsulate on their own.”   As Dr. Marshall Forstein, a Harvard Medical School professor, testified:  “Second-class citizenship, now institutionalized in some states in the form of civil unions, contributes to increased rates of anxiety, depression and substance use disorders in marginalized populations.”

The denial of health insurance by employers to same-sex partners, especially harmful during the current economic crisis.  Today’s final report underscores what the Commission’s interim report of February 2008 found, that the federal Employment Retirement Insurance Security Act (ERISA) preempts the New Jersey Civil Union law for approximately 50 percent of all employers in the state.  For that 50 percent, providing equal rights and benefits for same-sex couples under the civil union law is an option rather than a requirement.  

The Commission’s final report refutes the notion — as the interim  report did — that a change in state law from civil unions to marriage equality would have minimal impact because Federal law does not recognize same-sex relationships.  The final report provides ample evidence to the contrary, based on the dramatically lower invocation of ERISA by companies in Massachusetts, which has a marriage equality law.  “The term ‘marriage,’ the report concludes, “would make a significant difference in providing equality even with no change in federal law.”

Compounded harm to women, African-Americans and Latino-Americans, all of whom face discrimination because of their gender, race or ethnicity, and who now suffer double discrimination when denied equal rights and benefits under the civil union law.  The state Public Advocate told the Commission about “the particular difficulty for lower-income same-sex couples who encounter discrimination because they have fewer resources with which to seek legal counsel and redress, and who have difficulty meeting expenses if faced with reduced healthcare benefits.”

Harm to the marriages of couples where one partner is transgender.   The final report reaffirms the finding in the Commission’s interim report that the classification of civil union places marital status in question for these couples, who had gotten married legally when they were opposite-sex couples.

The Garden State legislature, it its wisdom, set this up beautifully, by allowing civil unions to be implemented, along with a commission to monitor “separate but equal” status.  And the dividends paid off with story after story about how civil unions don't work.

Dr. Sylvia Rhue: National Black Justice Coalition leader talks about the severe negative impact of New Jersey’s civil union law on African-American LGBT families because they are denied the freedom to marry.


Visit Civil Unions Don't Work.

There are already marriage equality bills introduced and ready to go:

S1967 Enacts the “Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act.”

A2978 Enacts the “Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act.”


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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding