New Jersey is not just geographically close to New York and New England, we share the same ideas about social and economic justice as our sister states to the North and East, yet frustratingly, we do not yet have marriage equality in our state.
That’s right. In New Jersey, lesbian and gay people do not have the freedom to marry who they love.
In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of equal protection under the law for all citizens, including gays and lesbians. Unfortunately, they were not bold enough to affirm the rights of lesbians and gays when it came to the “marriage.” word. In a move criticized by many, including the New Jersey Bar Association, the New Jersey Supreme Court instead left the name issue up to “the crucible of the democratic process.”
The legislature, aware of its newfound crucible status, decided to take the politically safer road and continue to segregate lesbian and gay relationships, calling their newly granted unions “civil unions.”
The entire canon of New Jersey law had to be rewritten with a gender-neutral voice and all references to marriage were amended to include civil unions. The unfortunate truth, however, is that the private sector does not always honor the civil union as being the same as marriage, which means some employers continue to deny insurance and other benefits to their gay and lesbian employees.
On the federal level, New Jerseyans are no better or worse off than anyone in America. The law with the misleading title, “Defense of Marriage Act”, or DOMA, prohibits lesbian and gay couples – even if they have been lawfully married in one of the states now honoring marriage equality from filing taxes jointly or transferring survivor Social Security benefits to a bereaved spouse – as well as being denied well over 1,000 other benefits.
There is a court case on the horizon that many hope will end with a ruling that establishes marriage equality in New Jersey. This case, brought by Garden State Equality on behalf of seven lesbian and gay couples in civil unions, challenges whether the legislature followed the court’s equality requirement when it passed the Civil Union Act in 2011.
In the meanwhile we continue to encourage everybody to designate their Powers of Attorney, sign their Living Wills and record their Last Will and Testament to guarantee their rights if they travel out of state and as fully as they may at this juncture. We await the changes that we know will soon arrive, where everyone can enjoy marriage equality and the civil rights we all deserve.
Here at Winograd and Schwartz, we not only specialize in Real Estate, Bankruptcy, Divorce and Immigration Law, we can also assist in drawing up wills and putting your Powers of Attorney in place. Call us today to see how we can help.
Winograd and Schwartz Attorneys at Law, PC