Tuesday, June 19, 2007

State Commission Begins Examining N.J. Gay Union 'Inequities'

State Commission Begins Examining N.J. Gay Union 'Inequities'
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff

Posted: June 19, 2007 - 11:00 am ET

(Trenton, New Jersey) A commission created when New Jersey legalized civil unions to examine its effectiveness has been told the law is a failure.

Last October the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples must have all the rights of marriage.

The Court gave the New Jersey State Legislature 180 days to act on the decision to grant same-sex couples the rights and benefits enjoyed by different-sex married couples but left it up to the legislators to decide whether to call it marriage or civil unions. (story)

The legislature opted for civil unions but the bill also mandated the establishment of a commission to report every six months on whether the law was meeting the requirements of the court ruling.

The law creating civil unions went into effect Feb. 19. Since then more than 1,000 same-sex couples have applied for civil union licenses.

At its first meeting on Monday the Civil Union Review Commission elected as its chair J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, the director of New Jersey's Division on Civil Rights, as as its vice-chair, longtime gay activist Steven Goldstein the head of Garden State Equality.

Vespa-Papaleo told the 12 other commissioners that the Division on Civil Rights has had about 360 inquiries, but only one official complaint - from a medical assistant who said the two firms he works for had both refused to provide health benefits for his civil union partner that are available to married spouses.

In his complaint Robert S. Kleid said he had been turned down by the New York City-based Tri-State Professional Employment Organization and by Minimed Care of Chester, N.J..

Goldstein said that despite only one official complaint to the Division his organization has had nearly 150 complaints of companies not abiding by the law and said the legislation is flawed and not working.

Although the civil unions law gives same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as marriage it is not recognized by a growing number of companies - all with federally regulated benefit plans.

Under the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage. The law allows those insurers to reject same-sex couples.

Nearly one in eight couples who have had civil unions have been turned down for company benefits Goldstein said.

Garden State Equality wants the civil union law amended to be called marriage - something he said would force businesses to comply.

A number of state lawmakers, including the Speaker of the Assembly, Joseph J. Roberts, Jr. (D) appear to share Goldstein's concerns.

Roberts has sent letters to state agencies, business groups and insurers reminding them of the provisions and intent of the law.

"The civil union law was not enacted to be a symbolic gesture," Roberts wrote in the letters. "It was passed with the expectation that its various provisions would be complied with and respected."

When completed the commission will deliver its report to the Legislature. It is generally expected the report will call for the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

©365Gay.com 2007

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