With three months to go before New Jersey's domestic-partnership law takes effect, the state is still working out the details of how same-sex couples will register. The town clerks who will handle the process say they know little about it.
After July 1, same-sex couples will be able to legally have many of the same rights as married couples in the state, but such details as how much registration will cost, what the certificate will look like, and how many people may sign up for it are still unknown.
Creating a new legal designation for gay couples has also created logistical difficulties, like revamping government forms that are now designed for heterosexual couples. It also means training clerks and registrars in the state's 566 municipalities on how to administer domestic partnerships. "This is a whole new set of responsibilities to deal with a new social change," said Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.
State registrar Joe Komosinski has no doubt the details will be complete by the deadline. But he expects that the new legal designation, which will also recognize unmarried straight couples over age 62, will prompt many questions. "We are sure there are going to be tweaks and bumps in the road," said Komosinski. "It's definitely going to be a work in progress."
One group with a lot of questions is the Municipal Clerks Association of New Jersey. Clerks will be in charge of administering the new law in many towns, but association president Joel Popkin said most don't know much about it. "I've had 15 or 20 clerks ask me, 'What is this all about?"' said Popkin, the municipal clerk in Neptune.
Gov. James E. McGreevey signed the domestic-partnership legislation in January. It will enable same-sex couples to get access to medical benefits, insurance, and other legal rights. It does not authorize gay marriage, which is against the law in New Jersey. To obtain domestic-partner status, a couple would have to share a residence and show proof of joint financial status or property ownership or designation of the partner as the beneficiary in a retirement plan or will. Once registered, couples will receive a document that will likely resemble a marriage certificate, said Komosinski. The cost will be about the same as a marriage license, about $28, he said.