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New Jersey Civil Union Bill Advances

Despite desire from activists that "marriage" be included in the language of a bill legalizing same-sex unions in New Jersey, a civil union bill was approved by a Senate Judiciary committee without such a definition on Monday. The bill has moved too swiftly, without enough consideration, said figures from both sides of the debate.

Nj_2Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Linden objected to the language, saying "society has an obligation to gay rights" according to the Courier Post: "This is gay marriage. To call it anything else is a farce. People are gay. They exist in society."

Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Demarest, whose response to the Supreme Court mandate was to draw up a bill declaring marriage between a man and a woman, said the bill discriminated against non-gays such as senior siblings who reside together. He added: "We're in a hurry to get this behind us because it's a political hot potato. We're changing a basic fabric of society. We should take the time to do it right."

The issue now heads to the full Senate for a vote as the State Assembly has already approved it.

Said Garden Equality chair Steven Goldstein: "Is it better than nothing? Sure. We are not going to rest until we have marriage for gay couples."

The bill may find its way to Governor Jon Corzine, who says he prefers the language "civil union" over "gay marriage", as soon as Thursday. Once signed, the bill would establish same-sex unions in New Jersey by the end of the year, as mandated by the state Supreme Court.

Some ministers and public officals have begun to raise objections to performing same-sex civil unions once they are legalized. This would most likely place them in violation of New Jersey's anti-discrimination law.

Said Mayor Steve Lonegan of Bogota: "No! I'm not doing it! They're not going to force me to do civil unions. They're going to have to put a gun to my head. Even then it's going to be a challenge."

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Comments

  1. Baby steps. I'm fine with civil unions at first... but once we have civil unions in every state of the union, the semantics will take over and everyone will be calling it Marriage. That's when we can move another step forward and require the government to recognize the unions legally as marriages.

    Posted by: mark m | Dec 12, 2006 9:42:39 AM


  2. I wonder is this might cause gay New Yorker's who want to tie the knot to flock to NJ. Of course, once they leave NJ they're no longer married, right?

    Posted by: Cory | Dec 12, 2006 9:43:38 AM


  3. Perhaps I don't fully understand the semantics of the word "marriage", but if a hetero couple gets married by the justice of the peace, isn't that a de facto "civil union" as much as it is a "marriage"? The couple are still considered "married" in the eyes of the state and their loved ones (one would hope). Would gay couples be considered "unioned" and not "married"? Isn't the word "married" in this case an umbrella statement for a union of two people?

    What I'm trying to say is the various religious institutions will be under no obligation to recognize "gay unions" or "gay marriage" (best they keep their noses out of it anyway), just as they are under no obligation to recognize a hetero couple's union outside of a church wedding (case in point, Nicole Kidman married that country singer in the Catholic Church and was able to do so because the Church never recognized her marriage/civil union to Tom Cruise, and, subsequently, never recognized their divorce, because they were "married" outside of Church sanction).
    As long as both gay unions and straight unions are given equal weight, equal status and equal protection under the law, it doesn't matter if the legislature keeps the term "marriage" out of the law because it will be, in fact, Marriage.
    Or am I missing something entirely?

    Posted by: LiamOg | Dec 12, 2006 10:04:32 AM


  4. I agree with Mr. Scutari. This is an outrage that we are even having a discussion on semantics.

    Posted by: Karim | Dec 12, 2006 10:48:10 AM


  5. A key thing to remember is that the more than 1,000 federal rights and responsibilities associated with marriage are activated by the issuance of a marriage license, not a civil union license. While it is true that the Defense of Marriage Act states that the federal government does not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in a state and denies federal benefits, that will not always be the case. DOMA could be overturned by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional.

    In addition to the benefits and protections of marriage, there is also the social meaning invested in the word "marriage." Have you ever heard of anyone wanted to grow and get civil unionized? It sounds like some mechanical process used in the making of steel or concrete. Most people understand clearly what marriage means and that meaning is something that we should not be denied.

    Finally, asking same-sex couples to settle for civil unions, is like asking Black people to accept segregated schools. It didn't work then, it won't now. As our history has proven, separate, but equal isn't.

    Posted by: Michael | Dec 12, 2006 10:51:43 AM


  6. Just in time for Christmas, or Festivus!

    Posted by: Anon | Dec 12, 2006 10:58:23 AM


  7. Here's another question: will New Jersey recognize "civil unions" from Connecticut and Vermont, and will it recognize "gay marriages" from Massachusetts?

    Posted by: Liam Og | Dec 12, 2006 11:16:24 AM


  8. Yes, you are missing something. The problem is, what your're missing is an important point that almost everyone is leaving out of the discussion. You're right in practice, but not in principle.

    The difference is that the way the general public uses words doesn't inherently give them legal standing as meaning what people think they do. You are right that gay couples in civil unions are going to use words like "husband" and "wife" and people will call the other partner's family the "in-laws."

    But "marriage" is portable, while a civil union is not. And "marriage" grants thousands of federal benefits, while a civil union does not.

    Try to tell a straight couple that "a civil union gives you exactly the same benefits as marriage, but they evaporate once you cross the state line." Are they going to accept that what they have is "the same" as marriage?

    From a practical viewpoint, the federal Protection of Marriage act means that a same sex marriage won't be portable anyway. But if that law was repealed tomorrow, civlly unioned citizens of Vermont or Connecticutt will not get those benefits, while married citizens of Massachucetts will -- because of "the word" marriage.

    So yes, it really does matter what word is used, because the word is what defines a specific legal status.

    If New Jersey uses "civil unions" rather than "marriage" they will, in fact be declaring that they are NOT giving those couples the same rights and access to rights that they are giving to opposite sex married couples.

    There are people who make the point that the federal law prohibits granting those benefits to gay couples. True enough, at least for now.

    But an opposite-sex couple getting a civil union does not get anywhere near the same rights and benefits that they would if they got married. How can someone then say that it is "the same as marriage" for a same-sex couple?

    Posted by: Peter | Dec 12, 2006 11:26:36 AM


  9. Ah the joys of cross posting! Great answers, folks.

    Posted by: Peter | Dec 12, 2006 11:28:31 AM


  10. Liam, good question, but reverse it.

    Will civil unions in New Jersey automatically be recognized in Massachucetts or other states without Defense of Marriage laws? If not, isn't New Jersey denying their citizens the benefit of having their legal status be recognized when they leave the state, on vacation or business?

    Posted by: Peter | Dec 12, 2006 11:32:24 AM


  11. Did anyone see the "Wedding Wars" thing on A&E last night? It was like a nice after-school special, but too cute in many ways. Who knew John Stamos could act?

    Posted by: Anon | Dec 12, 2006 11:34:29 AM


  12. Thanks Peter and Michael for sorting me out. I now understand that the NJ State Legislature has patted me on the head, called me a good child, and told me to sit down and be quiet.

    Like I was ever a good child, or quiet...

    The entire NJ State Legislature is up for re-election next November. New Jersey gays, mark you calendars.

    Posted by: LiamOg | Dec 12, 2006 12:02:33 PM


  13. YOUR calendars.

    Posted by: LiamOg | Dec 12, 2006 12:03:45 PM


  14. Y'all are missing the real point... Now there's gonna be a waiting list for Pantagis Renaissance and the Manor! And remember kids register at Nieman Marcus and Nordstroms not the evil anti-gay Macy's and Federated. (My pattern is gonna be 'Pines' by Noritake).

    Posted by: Crixi Van Cheek | Dec 12, 2006 12:20:57 PM


  15. The semantic argument over whether to call it "civil unions" or "marriage" is a parlor game played by privileged white liberals with too much time and money on their hands.

    If you are a working class person with HIV and no health insurance but you could gain access to health insurance through your same-sex partner's health insurance through a civil union, you are not going to sit there and quibble about semantics. (The fact that some people should have to win the romantic lottery in order to have health insurance is another issue entirely and which makes me wonder how many gay rights activists should be fighting for universal health insurance rather than the narrow special-interest issue of gay marriage.)

    This is why people who compare civil unions to 'separate but equal" institutions in the Jim Crow era consistently miss the point. Jim Crow was a social and legal system that was built around reinforcing exclusion and inequality based on race. Everyone knew that segregated schools for Black children had inferior resources and less money and denied Black children the opportunity for a good education. "Separate but equal" was designed as a way to prevent Blacks from being on an equal level playing field as whites.

    However, civil unions actually PROMOTE equality between gays and straights by giving same-sex couples the exact same rights and responsibilities as different sex couples in marriage.

    As for relating civil unions to all the federal rights and responsibilities associated with marriage: Even if New Jersey called it marriage, that still doesn't mean the federal government would be required to recognize it - just as they are not required currently to recognize same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts. And even if the Clinton-endorsed DOMA legislation were repealed tomorrow, it still wouldn't prevent individual states from passing their own legislation saying that same-sex marriages are not recognized in their state.

    As Hillary Clinton has said: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

    Posted by: LightningLad | Dec 12, 2006 12:39:53 PM


  16. Crixi Van Cheek LOL ^5

    Anyway;

    We're changing a basic fabric of society was said by some nut

    The basic fabric of society once said women should NOT work and jesus would come back and toss all working women into hell blah balh balh. once, slavery was a basic fabric of society going back thousands upon thousands of years in every culture, and Jesus supported it and if it ended come back and toss all "nige@" lovers into hell blah blah blah. Once upon a time the entire world ran on a caste system where if you were a shoe cobbeler's son then you would be a shoe cobbeler.....and the founding fathers changed that by founding america and the jesus nuts said jesus would come back and toss all the founding fathers into hell because they were overturning the basic fabric of society blah blah blah

    Enough with this blah blah blah.......fromt he jesus freak chicken littles

    (by the way, jesus if he was real did condemn something = DIVORCE)

    Posted by: jimmyboyo | Dec 12, 2006 1:32:48 PM


  17. Civil unions are not equal to marriage.

    Posted by: Jack | Dec 12, 2006 1:39:36 PM


  18. The court said to give gay couples equal rights. The legislature balked at calling it marriage and even took things out so it is little more than the domestic partnership they already have.

    Posted by: Jack | Dec 12, 2006 2:38:51 PM


  19. The legislature is under no obligation to call it "marriage." That wasn't part of the court directive. They can call "ham and cheese on rye" if they want to just as long as the legal rights and responsibilities are exactly the same.

    Posted by: LightningLad | Dec 12, 2006 3:00:55 PM


  20. I prefer getting the rights incrementally and holding off on the name IF the alternative is trying to get everything at once and ending up with Amendments that will give us less than nothing for a lifetime.

    However, Lightninglad, your claim that civil unions give the "exact same rights" as marriage is categorically incorrect and we do ourselves a great disservice when we repeat this false assumption.

    Posted by: Zeke | Dec 12, 2006 6:35:41 PM


  21. I am 100% for gay marriage. But some people out there need to understand that unions are not the same as marriage. That's why they are called unions and not marriage. Yes, it's that simple.

    Posted by: ... | Dec 12, 2006 8:46:03 PM


  22. It would seem to me that all marriages are fundamentally civil unions, no? I mean, they are civilian unions, right? So what's with the wordplay?

    Posted by: Derrick | Dec 13, 2006 9:40:58 AM


  23. Yes yes, most here realize that unions and marriage do not grant the same rights. My argument was that in our quest to get all or nothing, we are in danger of getting nothing. Victory comes in small steps... expecting small victories is in no way settling for less, it's just being patient.

    Bill Maher made a valid point recently. Americans seem hellbent on keeping two things: Guns and Marriage between a man and woman.

    If this is true then it means that this noble quest to obtain Marriage rights is going to take a lot longer than obtaining civil unions. So which would be better: getting civil unions within the next 5 years, which leads to a faster acceptance of the word "marriage" for gays, or getting nothing now and Marriage rights in ... Oh, about 25 years?

    When I say I am ok with civil unions, I am ok with it NOW... as a pragmatist, I see it was a bridge to gaining more rights.

    All or nothing, or as Hilary says "Perfect being the enemy of good" isn't going to work at THIS point in time.

    Posted by: mark m | Dec 13, 2006 10:54:35 AM


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