New Jersey bill would provide 'protection and security' for same-sex marriages
NJ Gov. Phil Murphy gives unemployment update on Feb. 5, 2021. NorthJersey.com
LGBTQ couples in New Jersey can legally marry because of a 2013 court ruling. But if the state Legislature passes a bill introduced on Feb. 9, it would cement same-sex marriage into New Jersey law.
The state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2013 despite appeal efforts by then-Gov. Chris Christie. The recent bill would take same-sex marriage rights out of the court's hands.
"I think we would like to not make [same-sex marriage] so much at the whim of the courts," said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, who co-sponsored the bill along with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
People fear that another court could reverse the earlier decision unless the Legislature codifies it in the law, Weinberg said. Concern grew after the U.S. Supreme Court added two conservative justices — Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — in the past four years, said Christian Fuscarino. He's the executive director of Garden State Equality, New Jersey's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization.
"[LGBTQ] couples are concerned that their marriages could be invalidated or that future couples will not have the same rights granted to them if the Supreme Court decided to reverse their decision," Fuscarino said. "Passage of this legislation will give those couples more protection and security."
Garden State Equality battled in the 2013 court trial that ended in favor of same-sex marriage. On Sept. 27 of that year, Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County ruled that failing to recognize same-sex marriage violated the equal protection agreement in the state constitution.
Christie attempted to appeal Jacobson's decision, but the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against his request in October 2013. Sweeney led efforts to override Christie's veto, an action that countered Sweeney's choice not to vote on a same-sex marriage bill in 2010. The next year, Sweeney said that was the "biggest mistake" of his political career, according to The New York Times.
For seven years before that trial, same-sex couples in New Jersey were formally recognized only as being in civil unions, not marriages. Weinberg and Sweeney's bill, if passed, would also eliminate the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission. The commission was responsible for overseeing progress of the state's civil unions act established in 2006, which granted the same legal rights to couples in civil unions that married couples receive.
The commission determined in 2008 that same-sex civil union couples faced unequal treatment and could not access the same federal benefits as married couples, according to the recent bill.
Weinberg said now that New Jersey acknowledges same-sex marriage, it has evolved to the point where the law does not need the term "civil union," an idea she never favored.
"Civil unions [were] not anything I believed in, but I had to compromise in order to get that far," Weinberg said. "It was done for those in my own party and leadership who somehow found it uncomfortable to use the word 'marriage.' "
Amending the statute sends a message to New Jersey residents, municipal marriage registrars and others authorized to officiate weddings that "persons, regardless of their gender, are entitled to marry another person, regardless of their gender," Fuscarino said.
The recent bill moved to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has not yet scheduled a discussion.