The Final Report of the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission:
The Legal, Medical, Economic and Social Consequences of New Jersey’s Civil Union Law
Issued December 10, 2008
The New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission is the state government agency charged with evaluating the effectiveness of the law.
Garden State Equality issued this press release upon the Commission’s unveiling of the report on December 10, 2008:
A BLUE-RIBBON STATE GOVERNMENT COMMISSION
ISSUES ITS FINAL REPORT, TELLING GOVERNOR CORZINE
AND THE LEGISLATURE: IT’S TIME TO ENACT MARRIAGE EQUALITY
Making its final recommendation,
the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission says the civil union law
“invites and encourages” harm to same-sex couples and their children
The commission cites “overwhelming evidence” the civil union law
will never provide equality with the passage of time
The 13 Commissioners include not only LGBT leaders, but also a right-to-life
Republican, plus two clergy, plus six government officials representing
an Administration that had opposed marriage equality in the courts
Wednesday, December 10, 2008 – A New Jersey state government commission today unanimously recommended to Governor Corzine and the New Jersey legislature that they enact a law to allow same-sex couples to marry “expeditiously because any delay in sucesso no casamento equality will harm all the people of New Jersey.”
The recommendation is part of the 79-page final report just released by the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission, a 13-member body created by the civil union law enacted in December 2006. The 13 Commissioners include not only LGBT leaders, but also a right-to-life Republican, plus two clergy, plus six government officials representing an Administration that had opposed marriage equality in the courts. Their report, passed on a 13 to 0 vote with no abstentions, is based on testimony from more than 150 witnesses over 26 hours spanning 18 public meetings in 2007 and 2008.
The civil union law “invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children,” concludes the final report, titled The Economic, Legal, Medical and Social Consequences of New Jersey’s Civil Union Act. “In a number of cases, the negative effect of the Civil Union Act on the physical and mental health of same-sex couples and their children is striking, largely because a number of employers and hospitals do not recognize the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples.”
“The Commission is compelled to issue its final report now because of the overwhelming evidence that civil unions will not be recognized by the general public as the equivalent of marriage in New Jersey with the passage of time. Nearly a decade later, civil union couples in Vermont report the same obstacles to equality that New Jersey civil union couples face today,” the report states, citing the recent study of a panel in Vermont.
Besides assessing the civil union law’s impact on same-sex couples, today’s final report describes how the absence of a marriage equality statute deprives New Jersey’s entire economy of considerable revenue. “Spending on weddings and tourism could boost the New Jersey economy by approximately $248 million over three years,” the report states. One expert testifying before the Commission estimates the figure could be $500 million or more.
But the heart of today’s report is its delineation of the harm that New Jersey’s civil union law has pro-actively inflicted upon same-sex couples.
“I’m a pro-life Republican and past Director of Gloucester County Right-to-Life,” said Commission member AnnLynne Benson on the release of today’s report, “so I know the diversity of this Commission. Our report demonstrates in exquisite detail why amending New Jersey’s law to extend marriage to same-sex couples is a necessity. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that ‘denying rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples violates the equal protection guarantee and can no longer be tolerated under our State constitution.’ Implementation of that ruling by the invention of a parallel status failed to deliver equality. It was like planting a toothpick and hoping a tree would grow.”
According to the final report, civil union law’s harm to same-sex couples includes:
- The inability of a number of same-sex partners to visit one another in the hospital, and to make medical decisions for one another, because hospitals don’t accept civil unions as equal to marriage. The Commission’s final report begins with the story of Naomi and Gina, a couple in Montclair, New Jersey who had a humiliating and life-threatening experience at a hospital. Gina was admitted to the emergency room with cardiac arrhythmia, unable to give consent for treatment. When Naomi arrived and said she was Gina’s partner, the doctor interrogated Naomi about the nature of the relationship and initially kept Naomi away from Gina and refused to let her give consent for Gina. The report has other stories like this.
- “Significant psychological damage” to the children raised same-sex couples because their families are given the stigmatizing label of civil union; and to LGBT youth who view themselves as inferior because they cannot marry. “Their heartbreaking testimony,” the report states, “brings to life their struggle in a way that no numbers – whether complaints filed with government agencies or advocacy organizations – can encapsulate on their own.” Dr. Marshall Forstein, a Harvard Medical School professor, testified: “Second-class citizenship, now institutionalized in some states in the form of civil unions, contributes to increased rates of anxiety, depression and substance use disorders in marginalized populations.”
- The denial of health insurance by employers to same-sex partners, especially harmful during the current economic crisis. Today’s final report underscores what the Commission’s interim report of February 2008 found, that the federal Employment Retirement Insurance Security Act (ERISA) preempts the New Jersey Civil Union law for approximately 50 percent of all employers in the state. For that 50 percent, providing equal rights and benefits for same-sex couples under the civil union law is an option rather than a requirement.The Commission’s final report refutes the notion – as the interim report did – that a change in state law from civil unions to marriage equality would have minimal impact because Federal law does not recognize same-sex relationships. The final report provides ample evidence to the contrary, based on the dramatically lower invocation of ERISA by companies in Massachusetts, which has a marriage equality law. “The term ‘marriage,’ the report concludes, “would make a significant difference in providing equality even with no change in federal law.”
- Compounded harm to women, African-Americans and Latino-Americans, all of whom face discrimination because of their gender, race or ethnicity, and who now suffer double discrimination when denied equal rights and benefits under the civil union law. The state Public Advocate told the Commission about “the particular difficulty for lower-income same-sex couples who encounter discrimination because they have fewer resources with which to seek legal counsel and redress, and who have difficulty meeting expenses if faced with reduced healthcare benefits.”
- Harm to the marriages of couples where one partner is transgender. The final report reaffirms the finding in the Commission’s interim report that the classification of civil union places marital status in question for these couples, who had gotten married legally when they were opposite-sex couples.
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