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Five New Jersey Towns Accused of Violating Same-Sex Marriage Laws

November 25th, 2022

The Supreme Court will hear a case brought by a Christian website designer who wants to be able to refuse service to LGBTQ customers.
Five New Jersey towns restricted the availability of marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples and excluded nonbinary applicants.

Five New Jersey towns were recently issued notices of violation by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR). These towns had details on their websites that restricted the availability of marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples and excluded applicants for marriage with nonbinary gender identities.

Same-Sex Marriage in New Jersey

Same-sex couples in New Jersey have been lawfully permitted to marry since 2013. In 2015, the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision made same-sex marriage lawful in every state in the country. How local municipalities treat same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ individuals, however, is still up to debate.

Enforcement Initiative for New Jersey Towns

The Attorney General announced that the Division on Civil Rights began this enforcement initiative to make sure that municipal governments throughout the state do not discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals who are pursuing marriage licenses.

As part of the enforcement initiative, the state issued violation notices to the New Jersey towns of Estell Manor, Hanover, South Toms River, Fairview, and Liden.

The violation states that the language either previously or currently posted on the vital records webpage belonging to the municipalities, instructions about applications for marriage, or the marriage applications themselves go against the terms of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. This law prohibits any type of communication suggestion that offerings are not available as a result of a person’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender expression.

A majority of the websites in question have since been updated to reflect these changes. Marriage license applications by one municipality, however, took much longer to update to reflect that same-sex couples could obtain a marriage license there.

The issue of these New Jersey towns’ websites expressly limiting marriage licenses to only opposite-sex couples was first brought up in a report authored by several groups, including the Hudson PRIDE Center, Latino Action Network, and Garden State Equality.

The Importance of Language

While the terms of each website varied between municipalities, each statement stated that only opposing-sex couples could enter into marriage, and application fields prohibited individuals who are nonbinary from applying for marriage licenses unless the applicants misgendered themselves as either male or female.

Commentary on the Matter

The state’s attorney general commented in response to the matter that marriage equality is the law in New Jersey and that New Jersey towns violate the law when they misrepresent the basic promises offered by the state.

An executive director for the Latino Action Network Foundation commented that allowing access to marriage equality in New Jersey necessitates cultural changes regarding how people talk about things like people, couples, and families. The director noted that language is important and that municipalities will hopefully learn how to let go of historically gendered terms, including ‘bride’ and ‘groom.’ 

Following Noteworthy LGBTQ+ Cases

The last decades saw several advances as well as setbacks in the field of LGBTQ+ rights. While the 2015 Obergefell decision was lauded as a substantial advancement in LGBTQ+ rights, the Masterpiece Cakeshop case was viewed as a major setback. The Universal Life Church’s blog strives to document the most noteworthy LGBTQ+ cases in an objective and easy-to-understand manner.

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