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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

CIVIL UNIONS: New Jersey
A practical Guide

"Garden State Equality presents this practical guide to New Jersey civil unions. This document should not be construed as legal advice from Garden State Equality in whole or in part. We present the questions and answers below merely as a public service. For legal advice, please consult your lawyer.

Garden State Equality is fighting for real marriage equality and will not settle for civil unions, which are separate, unequal and do not consistently work to protect same-sex couples in the real world. But civil unions are a notable step forward.

If you have further questions, please don't hestitate to contact Garden State Equality at (973) GSE-LGBT or Contact@GardenStateEquality.org. Happy holidays from all of us at Garden State Equality.

1. When does the civil unions law go into effect?

The law goes into effect on Monday, February 19, 2007, sixty days after Governor Corzine signs the bill into law. Governor Corzine is signing the bill this Thursday, December 21, 2006 at 11:00 am at the Trenton War Memorial adjacent to the State House.

Monday, February 19, 2007 is the first day you will be allowed to obtain a civil union license. New Jersey law mandates a 72-hour waiting period between getting the license and actually getting civil unioned, equal to the waiting period before getting married. Therefore, if you obtain your civil union license on Monday, February 19, 2007, the earliest you can get civil unioned is Thursday, February 22, 2007.

Please note that Monday, February 19, 2007 is a state holiday, so likely you will first be able to obtain a civil union license on Tuesday, February 20, 2007, and first be able to get civil unioned on Friday, February 23, 2007.

To send the world a message that civil unions are not equality and not enough, Garden State Equality is holding a rally for marriage equality on Monday night, February 19, 2007 at 7:00 pm, location TBA; and a midnight supper to celebrate New Jersey's momentum toward marriage equality later in the week, as couples begin to get civil unioned. Stay tuned for details on both events.

2. What are the mechanics of getting a civil union?

If you're a New Jersey couple or one of you lives in New Jersey, you may pick up a civil union license in the municipality in which you live. Go to your city hall, township hall, village hall or borough hall during business hours. If neither of you live in New Jersey, pick up a civil union license in the municipality in which your civil union will take place. Again, as with marriages, New Jersey has a 72-hour waiting period between the time you get your license and the time you go through with your civil union. Once you pick up your civil union license, the license is good for 30 calendar days.

When you pick up your license, bring two blank checks with you. One check you'll make out for $25 and the other check for $3, for $28 in fees together, the same fees as for marriage.

Once you've waited the 72 hours after you get your license, you can have your ceremony. It can be as simple and private as you like, or not. In any case, you will need one witness 18 years or older, who is neither you nor your partner, nor your officiant.

Your civil union may be conducted by a clergy member in New Jersey (or registering officer if you are a Quaker) or by the following government officials: A federal, state or municipal judge whose jurisdiction is, or includes, New Jersey; or a county surrogate, county clerk, mayor, deputy mayor if authorized by the mayor, or the head of a municipal council.

As you may have read, a few homophobic mayors have stated they will not perform civil unions. Those mayors would be violating the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and are subject to heavy fines. Should you run into this from any government official, please contact Garden State Equality immediately.

If you don't personally know a clergy person or government official, call or visit your municipal hall well in advance to confirm there is an officer available who performs civil unions.

As you may remember, New Jersey's domestic partnership law enacted in 2004 also allows opposite-sex couples older than 62 to register as domestic partners. Such opposite-sex couples will still be able to register as domestic partners, even after the civil unions law takes effect.

3. What if we're domestic-partnered in New Jersey? Do we have to do anything to end our domestic partnership before we get a civil union?

No, you don't have to do anything to end your existing domestic partnership. According to the new civil union law, when you get a civil union, your domestic partnership is automatically superceded by the civil union. If you and your partner choose not to get a civil union but instead prefer to stay with the far fewer protections of your existing domestic partnership -- why anyone would prefer that, we don't know -- your domestic partnership will be unaffected.
For same-sex couples, once the civil unions law takes effect, only civil unions and not domestic partnerships will be available. As you may remember, New Jersey's domestic partnership law enacted in 2004 also allows opposite-sex couples older than 62 to register as domestic partners. Such opposite-sex couples will still be able to register as domestic partners, even after the civil unions law takes effect.

4. My partner and I were did not register as domestic partners. We were thinking of it, but didn't get a chance to. Should we register as domestic partners now even though New Jersey will get civil unions very soon?

To maximize your legal protection under New Jersey law, you may register as domestic partners now and then enter a civil union when the law takes effect in February.

5. We don't live in New Jersey but we want to get a civil union in New Jersey. Can we?

Yes, you can. New Jersey does not have a residency requirement for either marriages or civil unions. If you are not residents of New Jersey, pick up a civil union license in the muncipality in which your civil union will take place. The ceremony can be conducted by any clergy member in New Jersey or any of the government officials above.

6. If we're not New Jersey residents but get a civil union in New Jersey, will our New Jersey civil union be recognized in our home state?

Contact the statewide organization in your home state or see a lawyer. We expect that many same-sex couples in New York and Pennsylvania, New Jersey's border states with substantial LGBTI populations, will come to New Jersey to obtain a civil union. If you're a New Yorker, contact the Empire State Pride Agenda at (212) 627-0305. If you're a Pennsylvanian, contact the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights of Pennsylvania at (215) 731-1447. These are wonderful organizations.

7. My partner and I got a civil union in another state. Do we need to get a civil union in New Jersey? Can we still get civil-unioned in New Jersey if we want to?

If you and your partner got a civil union in Vermont or Connecticut, New Jersey's new civil unions law allows you automatically to consider yourselves civil unioned in New Jersey. But according to the new law, you also have the option of getting another civil union in New Jersey.
Some same-sex couples in New Jersey who have been civil-unioned in Vermont or Connecticut believe it would be wise to get a civil union in New Jersey so our state has it on record. Like chicken soup, it couldn't hurt.

If you registered as domestic partners in California, you know that California domestic partnerships contain enough rights, benefits and responsibilities that practically speaking, they equal civil unions. But because California domestic partnerships are still not called civil unions, if you want civil-union protection in New Jersey, we'd recommend that you get a civil union in New Jersey.

If you registered as domestic partners in some other state and want civil-union protection in New Jersey, we'd recommend that you get a civil union in New Jersey.

8. My same-sex spouse and I got married in Massachusetts and now live here in New Jersey. Will New Jersey recognize our marriage?

If you are a same-sex couple who got married in Massachusetts and now live in New Jersey, please contact Garden State Equality immediately.

9. My same-sex spouse and I got married in a country that allows same-sex couples to marry, like Canada, Spain, South Africa, Belgium and the Netherlands. Will New Jersey recognize our marriage?

If you are a same-sex couple who got married in Canada, Spain, South Africa, Belgium or the Netherlands and now live in New Jersey, please contact Garden State Equality immediately.

10. If a clergy member performs our civil union in a religious ceremony in New Jersey, can the clergy member call it a marriage or a wedding, or refer to us at the ceremony as spouses?

You, and your clergy member or other officiant, can use whatever terminology you'd like for the ceremony. It is, after all, your ceremony. But to be clear, the maximum legal protection you would get in New Jersey right now is that of a civil union, not a marriage.

11. My partner is not a U.S. citizen but I am. I even live in New Jersey. If we get a civil union in New Jersey, will my partner be able to come live in the United States like an opposite-sex husband or wife of a U.S. citizens could?

Immigration is totally governed by federal law, which does not recognize same-sex relationships, whether marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships. It's horrible. We would advise you, in this case, to see a lawyer who specializes in immigration.

12. I understand that my partner and I, once we're civil unioned, will be able to file New Jersey state taxes together. What about federal taxes?

Again, because federal law does not recognize same-sex relationships, whether marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships, you could not file federal taxes jointly. But because federal taxes depend, in part, on what you pay in state taxes, which in turn would be affected by whether you're filing jointly as a civil-unioned couple, we are talking about a legal and accounting mess. This is yet another reason why we're fighting for marriage equality. If you can afford to see an accountant, it may be wise to.

13. What are the procedures and grounds for ending a civil union?

They parallel the procedures and grounds for getting a divorce. We'd recommend you see a lawyer with experience in family law, domestic relations or matrimony/divorce.

14. It's so unfair that civil unions are separate, unequal and discriminatory. Should my partner and I boycott civil unions by not getting one?

We would never recommend not getting a civil union just to make a political statement.
A hospital, employer or other institution, or a judge in a court of law, for example, could then say, "You chose not to give yourselves the maximum protection allowed under the law. Why not? Does this say something about your relationship?" It would be terrible to leave yourselves that vulnerable.

To make a more effective political statement for marriage equality, here are two ideas:
When you get a civil union, consider making a contribution to Garden State Equality or ask your guests at a ceremony to do so. The money will go directly to our fight for real marriage equality. Our address is Garden State Equality, 67 Church Street, Montclair, New Jersey 07042. You may donate to us online at www.GardenStateEquality.org.

After you get civil unioned, contact Garden State Equality immediately should you ever find your civil union not recognized in New Jersey, whether by a hospital, employer, public accommodation or any other institution. That will help us demonstrate why we need real marriage equality.

15. We're a straight couple and we don't want to get married until all couples, including same-sex couples, can marry. What do you think?

It's incredible that you thought to make this gesture. But don't deny yourselves the legal protection and emotional well-being that comes from being married. Here's an idea that would do more to advance marriage equality: When you get married, consider making a contribution to Garden State Equality or ask your guests at a ceremony to do so. The money will go directly to our fight for marriage equality. Our address is Garden State Equality, 67 Church Street, Montclair, New Jersey 07042. You may donate to us online at www.GardenStateEquality.org.

16. Does Garden State Equality recommend LGBTI-friendly attorneys or accountants?

Garden State Equality maintains a list of New Jersey lawyers and accountants who describe themselves as LGBTI-friendly and as having worked with LGBTI families. If you are an LGBTI-friendly attorney or accountant and would like to add your name to our list, please e-mail your name, office phone number and office address to Contact@GardenStateEquality.org.

Garden State Equality hereby states in the clearest, boldest possible terms that we neither vouch, nor take legal responsibility, for the services of any lawyers or accountants whom we refer. We merely provide names as a public service, based on which lawyers and accountants tell us they are LGBTI-friendly and have worked with LGBTI families. We provide lawyers' and accountants' names based solely on geographic proximity to where you are located. We do not investigate their work.

If you'd like the names of attorneys or accountants near you, please contact Garden State Equality."

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