Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in the U.S. state of New Jersey since October 21, 2013, the effective date of a trial court ruling invalidating the state's restriction of marriage to persons of different sexes.
In September 2013, Mary C. Jacobson, Assignment Judge of the Mercer Vicinage of the Superior Court, ruled that as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor, New Jersey's Constitution requires the state to recognize same-sex marriages. The Windsor decision held that the Federal Government was required to provide the same benefits to same-sex couples who were married under state law as to other married couples. Therefore, the state court reasoned in Garden State Equality v. Dow, because same-sex couples in New Jersey were limited to civil unions, which are not recognized as marriages under federal law, the state must permit civil marriage for same-sex couples. This ruling, in turn, relied on the 2006 decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis v. Harris that the state was constitutionally required to afford the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court had ordered the State Legislature to correct the constitutional violation, by permitting either same-sex marriage or civil unions with all the rights and benefits of marriage, within 180 days. In response, the Legislature passed a bill to legalize civil unions on December 21, 2006, which became effective on February 19, 2007.
In 2012, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, but it was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie.
Following the trial court decision in Garden State Equality v. Dow, the Christie administration asked the state Supreme Court to grant a stay of the decision pending appeal. On October 18, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously denied the request for a stay. Three days later, on the day the trial court ruling went into effect and local officials had begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and some wedding ceremonies had been performed, the Governor withdrew the state's appeal. This action removed the last potential impediment to same-sex marriages in the state.
In 2003, New Jersey implemented a domestic partnerships scheme. It was one of the first states to do so after California. In 2006, advocates of same-sex unions sued to transcend domestic partnership in the case, Lewis v. Harris. The judges struck down the domestic partnership arrangement and split 4-3 to allow the Legislature to pass civil unions instead of allowing same-sex marriage. In December 2006, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill providing for civil unions and recognizing other states' civil unions.
The New Jersey Legislature enacted the Domestic Partnership Act, Chapter 246, P.L. 2003 on January 12, 2004, which came into effect on July 10, 2004. The law made domestic partnerships available to all same-sex couples, as well as to different-sex couples aged 62 and older. The domestic partnership statute provides "limited healthcare, inheritance, property rights and other rights and obligations" but "[does] not approach the broad array of rights and obligations afforded to married couples." For example, as Lambda Legal states, the law "required health and pension benefits [only] for state employees—it was voluntary for other employers—and did not require family leave to care for an ill partner."
The domestic partnership statute remains in place even though New Jersey subsequently enacted a civil union statute. Couples in an existing domestic partnership are not required to enter a civil union. However, new domestic partnerships are available only to couples in which both partners are 62 and over, whether same-sex or different-sex.
Main article: Lewis v. Harris
On October 25, 2006, the Supreme Court of New Jersey unanimously ruled in Lewis v. Harris that the "unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our State Constitution." With the Harris decision, same-sex couples were granted the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as heterosexual couples with respect to their relationships.
While the decision was widely reported as a 4–3 split, the differences between the Justices on the Court were on whether only the provision of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples would resolve the constitutional defect, or whether another change in statute would pass constitutional scrutiny. The Court avoided the question of what to call the legal status, leaving that to, as the majority stated, the "crucible of the democratic process."
The dissent, led by then-Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz, chastised the junior members of the Court who said that anything other than marriage would provide equal rights: "What we name things matters, language matters... Labels set people apart surely as physical separation on a bus or in school facilities... By excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage, the State declares that it is legitimate to differentiate between their commitments and the commitments of heterosexual couples. Ultimately the message is that what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as real marriage, that such lesser relationships cannot have the name of marriage."
The court gave the State Legislature six months to enact legislation providing for civil unions.
On December 14, 2006, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill providing for civil unions, which was signed into law by then-Governor Jon Corzine on December 21, 2006. The Civil Union Act came into effect on February 19, 2007.
Same-sex couples who enter into a civil union are provided almost all of the rights granted to married couples under New Jersey state law. However, under the provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, same-sex couples in civil unions and domestic partnerships did not have any right or entitlement to the 1,138 rights that a married couple has under federal law. Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibited the federal recognition of same-sex marriages, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
The law provides for the creation of a Civil Unions Review Commission that will evaluate the law's effectiveness and any problems resulting therefrom, and will report every six months for three years following enactment to assess the impact of the law. The first meeting of the Civil Unions Review Commission took place on June 18, 2007. The Commission elected a chair, Frank Vespa-Papaleo, the current Director of the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, and the Commission plans on meeting monthly as well as conducting periodic public meetings.
According to the new civil union law, when a same-sex couple receives a civil union, their domestic partnership is automatically terminated by the civil union. However, those couples who remain in domestic partnerships and elect to not enter into a civil union will be allowed to remain as domestic partners. New domestic partnerships can still be formed if both partners are 62 years of age or older.
The New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) took a formal position against the adoption of Civil Unions Act, citing inherent and obvious problems and confusion the law has for the state's citizens and the legal representation. In addition, the NJSBA formally endorsed the marriage bill proposed by openly gay Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, saying that only same-sex marriage would meet the standard mandated by the Lewis decision.
A UPS spokesman claimed that language in its collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters union prevented it from extending benefits to same-sex partners. On July 20, 2007, Governor Jon Corzine sent a letter to UPS officials on behalf of a UPS driver and her partner, asking the company to comply with New Jersey law and extend spousal benefits such as health insurance to civil union partners. On July 30, a UPS spokesman said: "We have received clear guidance that, at least in New Jersey, the state truly views civil union partners as married. We've heard that loud and clear from state officials and we're happy to make this change." The company also noted that it already offers equal benefits to married same-sex couples in Massachusetts and would review its policies in Connecticut and Vermont.
Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Jersey, all same-sex relationships (including marriages) contracted out of state were recognized as having the same legal force as New Jersey civil unions, where they "provide substantially all the rights and benefits of marriage", or as equivalent and having the same legal force as New Jersey domestic partnerships, where they "provide some but not all of the rights and obligations of marriage".
During the first 90 days after the law went into effect, 852 same-sex couples entered civil-unions, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. During the same period, the LGBT civil rights organization, Garden State Equality, reported that it has received complaints from 102 couples denied benefits by employers or insurers. On May 22, 2007, the Star-Ledger reported that the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights has received at least 270 inquiries from couples in civil unions denied benefits by employers or insurers. As of June 18, 2007, only two complaints had been filed with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, it was reported at the first meeting of the Civil Unions Review Commission.
According to the LGBT civil rights organization Garden State Equality, by the end of July 2007, 211 of the 1,358 couples who had entered New Jersey civil unions since February 19 had "reported to Garden State Equality that their employers refused to recognize their civil unions." Among the companies flouting state law were shipping companies UPS, FedEx, and DHL, as well as a number of Fortune 500 companies.
By February 2008, 2,329 couples had entered into civil unions in the state.
Beginning on March 5, 2004, D. Kiki Tomek, deputy city clerk of Asbury Park, processed same-sex marriage licenses for several days. Deputy Mayor James Bruno married one couple on March 8, but then heeded a warning from the state Attorney General to stop issuing such licenses.
A commission was formed to review whether civil unions brought equality to same-sex couples. It determined that civil unions failed to provide equal treatment. On December 10, 2008, the Commission released its unanimous finding that marriage laws should be made gender-neutral to ensure equal treatment of same-sex couples. Governor Corzine had indicated that he would sign a bill to allow same-sex marriage.
In late 2009, lame duck Governor Jon Corzine stated that he would sign a bill legalizing same-sex marriage if it came to his desk before he left office, while his newly elected Republican successor Chris Christie said that he would promote a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. However, the political situation at the time made such an amendment unlikely, and Gov. Christie later supported a public vote on same-sex marriage; while he was personally opposed to it, he promised not to revisit the same-sex marriage issue if it was legalized by popular vote.
On July 26, 2010, the New Jersey Supreme Court declined a request on the part of the plaintiffs in Lewis v. Harris that it review whether the Legislature had complied with the court's order in that case. It said it wanted the challenge to begin in a lower court where a trial record could be developed. Lewis, 202 N.J. 340 (2010).
On December 7, 2009, the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee approved a same-sex marriage bill by a vote of 7 to 6, after seven hours of testimony and debate. It was amended in committee to clarify that clergy would not be required to perform weddings for same-sex couples. On January 7, 2010, the New Jersey State Senate defeated the measure in a 20–14 vote.
On February 13, 2012, the State Senate passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage by a vote of 24 to 16, and on February 16, the Assembly passed it by a vote of 42 to 33, with three Republicans and one Democrat not voting, and one Democratic seat temporarily vacant. In neither house was the bill passed by a veto-proof majority. Governor Christie vetoed the bill the next day and called for a constitutional amendment for same-sex marriage to be presented to the voters as a ballot referendum.
On February 21, 2013, state Democratic leaders announced plans to hold a vote to override the Governor's 2012 veto. The legislation needed three additional votes in the Senate and 12 in the House. The Legislature had until January 2014 to override the veto. Democratic legislative leaders exchanged charges with Christie in July. Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the Governor was intimidating some Republicans who supported same-sex marriage and State Senator Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, said Christie the "one man in New Jersey ... that stands in the way of marriage equality". Christie said in response: "If you want to change the core of a 2,000-year-old institution, the way to do that is to put it in front of the voters in the state of New Jersey and let them vote". In September 2013, legislators in favor of the bill were organizing an attempt at the veto override, and several legislators who did not vote on the bill or voted against committed to supporting it.
Main article: Garden State Equality v. Dow
On June 29, 2011, Lambda Legal filed suit in the Law Division of Superior Court in Mercer County on behalf Garden State Equality, seven same-sex couples, and several of their children, arguing that New Jersey's civil unions do not provide the same rights as marriage as required by the court's decision in Lewis, 188 N.J. 415; 908 A.2d 196 (2006). On September 27, 2013, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that the state must allow same-sex couples to marry in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor. Jacobson ruled that as of October 21, 2013, the state "shall permit" same-sex couples to marry.
The Christie administration appealed Jacobson's ruling and also requested a stay of its execution. The state Supreme Court accepted the appeal on October 11 and scheduled oral arguments for January 6–7, 2014. On October 18, 2013, the Supreme Court rendered a provisional, unanimous (7–0 vote) order denying the stay, thereby provisionally authorizing same-sex marriage in the state pending its decision on the state's appeal of Judge Jacobson's ruling. In the Supreme Court's decision, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote that "the state has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: Same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today". The court held that it could "find no public interest in depriving a group of New Jersey residents of their constitutional right to equal protection while the appeals process unfolds." Weddings were performed just after midnight on October 21, 2013, and Governor Christie dropped his administration's appeal of the lower court ruling that morning.
A 2006 UCLA study estimated the potential economic impact of same-sex marriage on New Jersey and concluded that the gain would be substantial. If New Jersey were to give same-sex couples the right to marry, that is marriage itself and not civil unions, the state would experience a surge in spending on weddings by same-sex couples who currently live in New Jersey, as well as an increase in wedding and tourist spending by same-sex couples from other states. The analysis outlined in detail in the report predicted that sales by New Jersey's wedding and tourism-related businesses would rise by $102.5 million in each of the first three years when marriage for same-sex couples is legal. As a result, the state's gross receipt tax revenues would rise by $7.2 million per year, and 1,400 new jobs would be created in relevant industries.
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The questions asked in each poll varied. The 2009 Rutgers poll, for example, asked voters if they will accept a decision by the Legislature to legalize same-sex marriage, while the 2006 Rasmussen Reports survey asked voters whether they personally define marriage as a union of a man and a woman or between a union of two people. A Zogby International poll conducted in April 2005 asked about same-sex couples married outside of the state. 57.5% felt the marriages should be recognized, 37.2% thought the state shouldn't recognize them, and 5.3% weren't sure. New Jerseyans supported civil unions in 2006 before the passage of the Civil Unions Act, with 66% in favor and 29% opposed.
A July 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 81% of New Jersey voters supported legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 41% supporting same-sex marriage and 40% supporting civil unions, while only 17% opposed all legal recognition and 2% were not sure.
New Jersey trends mirrored national trends, in that women, young people, Latinos, people with a college education, and people who know gay men and lesbians were more supportive of same-sex marriage than men. The elderly, blacks, Asians, people without a college education, and those who do not know any gay men or lesbians were most opposed. However, same-sex marriage was not seen as an "important issue" by the latter groups, and the Eagleton Institute found that they were not likely to be source of opposition to the bill if it passed. A 2012 poll found that in New Jersey, a majority of Democrats supported same-sex marriage, a majority of Republicans were opposed, and a majority of Independents favored same-sex marriage.