civil unions law has failed to provide all the benefits of
marriage to at least one in five same-sex couples, a gay
rights group told a panel Wednesday that will report
its findings to the governor and state legislature.
More than 300 of
the 1,514 same-sex couples who have joined in civil
unions have complained to Garden State Equality, the state's
leading gay rights group, about employers denying them
benefits under the law, said David M. Smith, the
group's deputy director.
''If this law is
a failure and people's rights are at stake, why must we
wait to fix the problem?'' asked Thomas H. Prol, a state bar
association trustee and former cochairman of the
group's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights
Smith and more
than 20 others shared their experiences with the civil
unions law -- all negative -- during a hearing Wednesday to
review the law's effectiveness. The law is supposed to
provide those who take advantage of it with all the
benefits that married couples enjoy.
before the Civil Union Review Commission included parents
of gay adults, gay rights advocates, lawyers, and gay
couples, some with children in tow. All urged the
legislature to change the law to include the word
''marriage,'' and no one spoke in favor of reducing gay
Craig Ross said
that when he lost his white-collar job and tried to get
benefits on his partner's plan, the couple were denied
despite their civil union because they aren't
relationship and our legal status a civil union, I believe,
gives my company an easy out,'' Ross said. ''Calling it what
it is -- a marriage -- makes denial of those benefits
obvious for what it is: discrimination.''
Ross and Richard
Cash are among 30 same-sex couples who signed a letter
to the governor and legislative leaders describing financial
and emotional damage caused by what they call
shortcomings in the civil unions law.
legislators passed the law in December, after the state
supreme court ruled it unconstitutional to deny same-sex
couples access to marriage rights and protections, and
it went into effect in April. The legislation also
created the special commission, which held the first of
three public hearings Wednesday. It is to report its
findings twice a year.
chairwoman of Freedom to Marry in Vermont, which has had a
civil unions law similar to New Jersey's for more than seven
years, cautioned that the passage of time will not
bring marriage equality.
''This is not a
privilege, this is not a right, this is about justice,''
said Tom Barbera, a labor leader in Massachusetts, the only
state that allows same-sex couples to marry, a right
created by the top court in that state.
president of a group called the New Jersey Family Policy
Council, complained last week that the Civil Union Review
Commission was created ''to turn civil unions into
The group is
pushing for a state constitutional amendment that would ban
marriage between same-sex couples. The legislature would
have to support an amendment before it went to a
popular vote, but the Democrats, who control both
houses, oppose such a vote. (Angela Delli Santi, AP)