Yesterday, we got a pointed reminder from our neighbor next door about why only marriage provides equality and not anything else government tries to put in its place.
On the one-year anniversary of its civil unions law, New Jersey released its first interim report studying the actual impact of the law and found that civil unions confer a “second-class status” to same-sex couples and do not fulfill the directive from the state’s Supreme Court that equality be provided.
The report provided evidence of how same-sex couples in Massachusetts, where marriage is legal, do not face the same barriers to being treated equally that couples in New Jersey are facing under civil unions and also looked at Vermont where couples in civil unions are having the same problems couples in New Jersey are experiencing.
While the reasons were several, one of the report’s key findings was that numerous private sector employers in New Jersey, who use marriage as the determining factor in providing employees with access to benefits for their families, have shown little willingness to use civil unions in the same way. (In Massachusetts this has been a non-issue with same-sex couples who are married.) Another finding was that emergency room personnel, doctors and nurses, teachers and others don’t understand what civil unions are, rendering them practically useless in situations when the protections they are supposed to provide are most needed, such as in the case of a medical emergency.
These and other deficiencies outlined in the report go to the heart of the debate about civil unions versus marriage and why the two aren’t the same, either legally or practically.
Already there are calls by New Jersey legislators to stop dawdling and make marriage a reality for same-sex couples. Governor Corzine, too, has expressed concerns with the findings of the report and reiterated that he will sign a marriage bill into law following the General Elections in November.
It sounds like things are on the right track in New Jersey.
By serving as laboratories for civil unions and marriage for same-sex couples, New Jersey and Massachusetts are doing all of us a huge service. Their experiences should help move the debate on this issue further away from the irrational arguments our opponents like to use against us and more towards the common-sense arguments for marriage equality that can now be buttressed with real facts about what happens when states stand up for our families.
This report and the next will also put to rest the notion that the only difference between a civil union and a marriage is the name they go by. We’ve always known the two are not the same and have said so, but having it in black and white from a state that has civil unions makes it much more difficult to dispute.
This can only help our community's efforts here in New York and in other states to win access to marriage and the protections it provides.