Clergy in New
Jersey cannot be required to unite gay couples in civil
unions, the state attorney general said in a decision that
quieted the fears of some religious groups opposed to
Gen. Stuart Rabner's legal opinion, sent Thursday to
the state registrar of vital statistics, came less
than a month after the state became the third to
approve civil unions for gay couples.
The unions offer
the legal benefits of marriage but not the title.
Couples may begin applying for licenses in New Jersey on
February 19 and can be united 72 hours later.
Under the law,
all the same people who perform marriages--among them
clergy, judges, mayors, and other local officials--can
preside over civil union ceremonies.
worried that gay rights activists might sue to force
clergy to perform the ceremonies.
Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic
Conference, which lobbies on behalf of the state's Roman
Catholic dioceses, said Thursday he had feared
Catholic clergy could also be accused of hate crimes
when they denied requests to perform civil union
puts that to rest, he said. ''It recognizes our right to
practice our faith,'' Brannigan said.
advocates said the opinion came as no surprise.
been true that religious groups can say no to any couple
that wants to get married,'' said David S. Buckel, the
marriage project director for Lambda Legal, a gay
legal advocacy organization.
religious rites performed by clergy are exempt from New
Jersey's law against discrimination, so unlike municipal
officials, they cannot be compelled to perform civil
general had issued another opinion last month saying mayors
and other nonclergy who regularly perform marriages cannot
turn down gay couples who ask to have civil unions
he said, will have to perform the unions or stop doing
all weddings. To perform any marriage requested but then
turn down a civil union would be a violation of the
antidiscrimination law, he said.
Massachusetts has legalized same-sex marriage. Vermont and
Connecticut already allow civil unions, and California
offers domestic partnerships. (AP)