Gay Marriage Act

The New Jersey legislature is currently considering a bill that is hailed as an end to “pernicious discrimination” against same-sex couples. The Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act, sponsored by Senators Loretta Weinberg and Raymond Lesniak, is being considered by the State Assembly, following release and approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee. S1967 amends previous laws regarding marriage. One change is that ceremonies can now be performed by any “member of the clergy” of any religion, rather than a “minister.” It also redefines “marriage” as “the legally recognized union of two consenting persons in a committed relationship.” The bill also allows for no waiting period and no fee for a marriage license for any couple that has already registered a civil union.

The bill has been criticized by religious organizations that consider homosexuality a sin, but proponents of the law believe that it is a reasonable response to Lewis v. Harris, 188 N. J. 415 (2006), a landmark New Jersey Supreme Court decision. This case held that it was unconstitutional to deny the same rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples that are statutorily given to their heterosexual counterparts. New Jersey’s previous law allowing same-sex (and heterosexual couples) to register a “domestic partnership” was held to be a denial of the equal protection clause of the New Jersey Constitution, because it did not provide the same rights and benefits as marriage.

In February 2006, the New Jersey legislature passed the Civil Union law, in an attempt to resolve the inequities in the Domestic Partnership Act. However, many same sex couples reported that their employers were denying benefits afforded to married couples because they refused to recognize “civil unions.”

The pending law seeks to put an end to the distinctions between a civil union and marriage. As of December 15, the bill is in the Assembly for revisions and no votes are scheduled.

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