NEWARK, N.J - The American Civil Liberties Union expressed support for a civil union bill passed today by the New Jersey Legislature as a significant step toward ensuring that gay and lesbian couples are afforded equal treatment. Although pleased that same-sex couples will now have access to hundreds of family protections, the ACLU will continue to press the state legislature for marriage.
"While we continue to push the New Jersey Legislature to do the right thing by the many same-sex couples in New Jersey and pass a marriage bill, civil unions are a giant step toward greater fairness for same-sex couples," said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ. "Same-sex couples throughout the state will now have access to hundreds of family protections that were previously available only to straight couples."
"But civil unions are a temporary fix," continued Jacobs. "We are going to keep pressing until same-sex couples and their families have access to the dignity and respect that only comes through marriage."
The bill passed today by sweeping margins in both bodies of the New Jersey Legislature. The governor is expected to sign the bill soon.
"I hope that the New Jersey legislators who pushed for civil unions rather than marriage will think hard about their motives," said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "If their goal truly was to put same-sex couples on equal footing with married couples, why did they take the much more complicated step of creating civil unions when they could have simply amended the state's marriage laws? The only possible explanation is to send a clear message that the commitments and families of lesbians and gay men in New Jersey are less worthy."
The ACLU-NJ submitted testimony to the Legislature explaining the implications of creating civil unions rather than granting same-sex couples the ability to marry. The civil unions law will cause great confusion for same-sex couples who live in New Jersey but were married elsewhere. It is not clear at this point how the state will treat those marriages. Similarly, same-sex couples who receive civil unions in New Jersey will be in legal limbo if they move to a state that recognizes the marriages of same-sex couples. This would be a problem for same-sex couples who move to Massachusetts as well as states like New York, which have indicated that they intend to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples.
With today's vote, New Jersey joins Vermont and Connecticut in establishing civil unions for same-sex couples. California provides for comprehensive domestic partnerships, which are similar to civil unions. Same-sex couples are able to marry in Massachusetts, Canada, Spain, the Netherlands and South Africa.
A copy of the testimony submitted to the New Jersey Legislature is available here: