In New Jersey, Lack of Federal Benefits Illustrates that Civil Unions are Not Equal to Marriage
August 15, 2013 by Cathryn Oakley, Senior Legislative Counsel, State & Municipal Advocacy
Today, a judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey heard arguments in favor of a motion for summary judgment in Garden State Equality v. Dow.
This motion for summary judgment would, if granted, conclude the case brought by Lambda Legal on behalf of Garden State Equality and seven same-sex couples and their children harmed by being denied marriage equality by the State of New Jersey.
While New Jersey has had civil unions since 2007, the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission (“CURC”), appointed by the legislature to evaluate the sufficiency of civil unions, unanimously concluded that civil unions were not equal to marriages.
A previous case, Lewis v. Harris, held that the New Jersey constitution required that committed same-sex couples be afforded the same rights and benefits enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples. The CURC concluded that the evidence was overwhelming in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Today’s motion argued that, in light of the recent decision in United States v. Windsor, civil unions are more disparate from marriage than ever. Because Windsor overturned the discriminatory provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that limited the definition of “spouse” to heterosexual couples, federal benefits of many kinds are now available to legally married same-sex couples. There are more than 1,100 places in federal law where a protection or responsibility is based on marital status. A few key examples include access to Social Security survivors’ benefits; the option to use family medical leave to care for a spouse; the opportunity to sponsor a foreign-born spouse for citizenship; and access to veterans’ spousal benefits. However, same-sex couples in civil unions are not “spouses” in the eyes of the federal government because they are not legally married. This means that same-sex couples in New Jersey are not able to access the same federal benefits as same-sex couples who are able to marry.
The judge will not be issuing a decision on this motion until September, but even then this fight will not be over. New Jersey United for Marriage , of which HRC is a proud partner, has mounted a campaign to secure marriage equality for all loving and committed couples in New Jersey. Whether equality is achieved through this case or through the legislative process, New Jersey United for Marriage will fight to make sure that the protections and responsibilities of marriage are extended to all loving and committed couples in New Jersey.
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