Separate. Equal?

Six months ago, gay-rights advocates cheered as a same-sex civil union law took effect in New Jersey. But now, many of those people say civil ...
by | September 28, 2007

Jersey Six months ago, gay-rights advocates cheered as a same-sex civil union law took effect in New Jersey.

But now, many of those people say civil unions aren't enough. At a hearing of the state Civil Union Commission to gauge the effectiveness of the law, advocates said that civil unions confer a second-class status on gay couples. And many gay people say their employers refuse to recognize their civil union. From the Asbury Park Press :

[S]everal couples...described how business have cited federal laws that refer to "marriage" or "spouses" in order to deny health coverage to gay and lesbian employees who have tried to obtain benefits for their partners under New Jersey's civil union law.

David Smith, Garden State Equality's deputy director, said the organization has received 304 complaints about unequal treatment under the state's civil union laws -- he called that "an astonishing rate of failure."

"Employers don't respect civil unions like they respect marriage in the real world," Smith told the review commission.

Personally, I don't think there's anything too surprising here. I mean, if these businesses had wanted to extend benefits to their gay employees' same-sex partners, they always could have done that, before this law ever came around. So it seems natural that they'd still only want to recognize heterosexual unions, even under the new law.

And a civil union law provides a loophole big enough to drive a truck through.

As long as you have separate laws for different groups of people, it's no surprise that some businesses -- like UPS --would use those laws to treat people differently. If civil unions were intended in part as a way to "force" businesses to treat same-sex couples the same as different-sex couples, I'd say that has some built-in challenges.

Zach Patton  |  Executive Editor
zpatton@governing.com  | 

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