Groups on both sides of the controversial gay marriage issue rallied in Trenton recently in anticipation of the state Supreme Court’s possible consideration of the matter. (1)
On Tuesday, July 20, 2010, members of the National Organization for Marriage rallied at the Statehouse in support of traditional marriage, which is defined in a 1996 federal law as “between a man and a woman” (2). This rally was countered by the appearance of members of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest gay rights organization.
This competing rally stemmed from a petition to the state Supreme Court filed last March by six same-sex couples for permission to marry. All six couples have formed civil unions, but argue that the state’s civil union law does not provide them with the same rights as heterosexual married couples have.
In December, 2006, the state Legislature passed a bill making New Jersey the third state in the nation to recognize civil unions of gay couples. This civil union law gave gay couples “adoption, inheritance, hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights and the right not to testify against a partner in state court.” (2)
“ ‘Civil union’ is a category of law that was created to extend rights to same-sex couples. These rights are recognized only in the state where the couple resides. . . The most significant difference between marriage and civil unions (or domestic partnerships) is that only marriage offers federal benefits and protections.” (3)
U.S. citizens receive over 1,100 protections and rights when they marry, according to the General Accounting Office of the federal government. Among these rights are:
Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits, health insurance, Medicaid, hospital visitation, estate taxes, retirement savings, pensions, family leave and immigration law.(3)
While some of these rights may be available under New Jersey’s civil union laws, the rights are subject to taxation at the federal level, because civil union relationships are not recognized by the federal government.
Legislation supporting same-sex marriage has failed to pass the state Senate; NJ Gov. Chris Christie has openly opposed such a law; and moves to let voters decide the question have not materialized. Groups on both sides of the issue expect the next phase to be in front of the state Supreme Court. The Court, however, has not decided whether to hear the case.