Author Archives: Civil Unions Don’t Work

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The Final Report of the Civil Union Review Committee

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:


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.

Learn more at:




New Jersey’s chief opponent of marriage equality, John Tomicki of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage, stated yesterday that marriage equality for same-sex couples would not affect his marriage. His sweeping, quite puzzled response, “Why would it?” demolishes the argument that ending discrimination in marriage would destroy the institution.

Tomicki’s statement came at a news conference he held Tuesday after the New Jersey Civil Union Commission released a report evaluating the civil union law on its one-year anniversary. The Commission report detailed the vast array of problems that the civil union law inflicts on same-sex couples in New Jersey because employers, hospitals and other institutions do not respect civil unions as they do marriage.

At his news conference, Tomicki spoke, as he and his colleagues often do, about protecting the institution of marriage. Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, pointed out that he and several others in the LGBT community had already gotten married to their same-sex partners in Canada or elsewhere, and have been living in New Jersey without destroying the institution.

The following exchange, captured on audiotape, took place between Goldstein and Tomicki:

Goldstein: “You’re still married after 50 years, right? So my marriage has not affected your marriage.”

Tomicki responded incredulously: “Why would it?”

Though opponents of marriage equality continue to make abstract statements that marriage equality would destroy the institution of marriage, the opponents have failed to produce any married opposite-sex couples who will state with certainty that their marriages will be destroyed when New Jersey lets same-sex couples marry.

Goldstein said, “Several same-sex couples in New Jersey have gotten married in Canada and the world is still turning, the Jersey Shore is still beautiful, Garden State Plaza is still packed, and it’s still tough to book weddings at catering halls across the state.


New Jersey’s civil union law: A real world mess

New Jersey’s civil union law took effect on February 19, 2007. Enactment of the law came in response to a New Jersey Supreme Court decision mandating that same-sex couples in New Jersey receive the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples. The Court left it up to the state legislature to decide whether the new law would allow same-sex couples to marry, or merely to enter so-called “civil unions.” Legislators chose civil unions. But they also said they would revisit the issue of marriage equality soon.

In fact, when the legislature passed the civil union law, it also created the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission to evaluate the effectiveness of the law – specifically to evaluate whether civil unions are working to provide equality to same-sex couples as marriage would. This website presents videos of the 96 witnesses who have testified at the Commission’s public hearings, spanning eight hours thus far.

People often define civil unions, available in New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire, as providing all the state rights and benefits of marriage but without the name “marriage.” But as the evidence proves, civil unions do no such thing.

Since civil unions became law in New Jersey, Garden State Equality has received reports from hundreds of civil union couples who have told us their employers refuse to provide the equal rights and benefits the civil union law mandates. The failure rate of New Jersey’s civil union law, in fact, is at least one in every five – and likely way worse because the ratio encompasses only the complaints that have come to Garden State Equality.

If New Jersey’s civil union law were a person, it would be arrested for committing fraud.

In almost all the cases, the employers say they understand the law but that they will provide coverage only to married couples. The employers want to see the word “marriage.”

There goes the argument that New Jersey’s civil union law is new, give it time. Look at Vermont, where a number of employers aren’t providing equal benefits to civil union couples to this day. Vermont enacted its civil union law back in 2000.

As Beth Robinson, a prominent Vermont attorney and civil rights leader, recently testified before the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission: “Based on the Vermont experience, I can tell you that it’s just not true that if enough time passes, civil unions will achieve parity with marriage. Time does not fully mend the inequality inherent in two separate institutions.”

In a damning example of how New Jersey’s civil union law is failing, a resident of Essex County told the Commission that her benefits administrator said no when she asked for benefits for her partner under New Jersey’s civil union law. But later, when she happened to mention that she and her partner had also gotten married in Massachusetts – the one state where same-sex couples can marry – the benefits administrator immediately changed its mind and granted the benefits. The word “marriage” made the difference.

That’s why New Jersey State Bar Association President Lynn Fontaine Newsome, testifying on behalf of the Bar Association, has called New Jersey’s civil union law “a failed experiment.”

What further proof?

In New Jersey, a number of companies are using a federal law loophole to avoid giving employees equal benefits under New Jersey’s civil union law. Federal law, not state law, governs many companies across the country – and federal law does not recognize same-sex relationships of any kind.

The federal law loophole also allows employers in Massachusetts not to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed there. But employers in Massachusetts are not using the federal law loophole like employers in New Jersey are. As Tom Barbera, a labor leader in Massachusetts, told the New Jersey Civil Review Commission:

“It’s not that employers in Massachusetts don’t understand that federal law allows them to refrain from providing benefits to same-sex married couples. It’s that employers also understand that without the term ‘civil union’ or ‘domestic partner’ to hide behind, if they don’t give equal benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, these employers would have to come forth with the real excuse for discrimination. Employers would have to acknowledge that they are discriminating against their employees because they are lesbian or gay. And employers in Massachusetts are loathe to do that, as they would be in New Jersey were you to enact a marriage equality law.”

The failure of New Jersey’s civil union law is having devastating real-world consequences. Take the heartbreaking case of a civil union couple from North Jersey named Pam and Chris. One of them told her employer about the new civil unions law and… you guessed it. The employer said, “We’re not going to provide you benefits. You’re not married.” The human resources department brutally confirmed that “nothing has changed,” in its own words, since the civil union law took effect.

The denial of benefits to Pam and Chris was inhuman. These two incredible, loving women, together 16 years, have adopted three special-needs children. One of the kids has severe ADHD. Another was born drug-addicted. And the third, whom this couple calls their “angel baby,” has autism.

Our society should be celebrating Pam and Chris. Instead, even with civil unions on the books, they and their children are denied equal protection under the law.

How, then, can our society credibly tell these families that civil unions provide all the state rights and responsibilities of marriage?

These families know first-hand the real definition of civil unions: Civil unions carry the everyday risk of none of the state rights and benefits of marriage.

Civil unions also pose psychological harm to children. Why should children of same-sex couples be stigmatized by their parents’ having a lesser label than of opposite-sex couples, whom society calls “married”? Some children are coming home in tears.

How ironic in New Jersey, the national pioneer in allowing same-sex couples to adopt.

Notwithstanding these horror stories, some still wonder why same-sex couples won’t settle for the term “civil union.”

Indeed, Garden State Equality isn’t fighting for the name “marriage” merely to achieve some moral or symbolic victory. We’re fighting for the name “marriage” because it’s the only label that will make an LGBT civil rights law work. Marriage is the only currency of commitment the real world consistently accepts.

For the very few who still ask, “So long as we get the rights, who cares what it’s called?” the New Jersey experience has answered the question once and for all. You’ve got to care, because if a same-sex couple’s relationship isn’t called marriage, that couple may never see the rights.

And for others wondering, “Wow, employers in New Jersey seem to be in noncompliance more than their counterparts in other states with civil union or domestic partnership laws,” that would be a misimpression. All the states with contraptions short of marriage equality are facing problems. Here in New Jersey, we’re just very vocal when we see inequality. Heck, we’re New Jersey and we’re vocal about everything. It makes our state one of the best places in the world for the LGBT community to live.

To be sure, civil union couples like Pam and Chris have legal recourse. They can sue. They can file a complaint with our state government.

But that misses the point. What good is legal recourse when you or your loved one may have only moments to live, moments to obtain consent? Why should same-sex couples have to endure the time and cost burdens of legal recourse? Again, that’s not equal protection under the law.

If New Jersey defers marriage equality, how many more families like Pam, Chris and their children will get hurt?

Watch the videos on this website and you’ll see just the tip of the iceberg.