Civil Unions in New Jersey

New Jersey’s Governor signed into law the bill to legalize civil unions in the state, passed in wake of a court decision requiring the legislature to do so. This is only a partial victory for reasons Pam discussed when the legislature passed the bill – for example, civil unions only confer state-level rights but not federal rights.

However, this partial victory is enough to showcase that progressive activism can succeed. While the reformist attitude toward change centers on fixing what everyone knows is broken and on electoral and legislative methods, the progressive attitude centers on social and legal action.

The Massachusetts decision in 2003 triggered a short backlash against gay marriage. The New Jersey decision three years later, in which the dissenters argued for full gay marriage, didn’t help the Republican Party hold its Congressional majority in an election less than two weeks later.

As even the states that did ban gay marriage after the Massachusetts decision never recognized single-sex relationships in the first place, these rulings were all gain, no pain for gay rights activists. While Democrats insist on not taking action on any issue that polls less than 70% – higher than civil unions, which are at 60% – liberals keep prodding, increasing their issues’ support on the way. New Jersey’s new status as the largest state in the US that permits civil unions is a direct result of that activism.

3 Responses to Civil Unions in New Jersey

  1. Fred Vincy says:

    I have been feeling disappointed in the NJ legislature and Corzine for not supporting full marriage equality, so I appreciate your much more optimistic reaction. Even civil unions really would have seemed like a distant goal 5 years ago.

  2. Bruce says:

    I suspect that the effort to implement full same-sex marriage will be helped by this statute, because it is not even “separate but equal” let alone truly equal. The full faith and credit that applies in reality to nationwide marriage will not so apply to civil unions and that will be what brings this matter back to court.

    Add the wild card of Maryland my Maryland – a state about 2/3 the size of New Jersey, where maybe half of the federal government lives – and it will take a strong, radically conservative executive and legislative branch in DC to stop the trend. Which we don’t have.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Another reason it’ll be helped is that the bill also normalizes civil unions, which helps make the debate one between civil unions and marriage, rather than one between nothing and civil unions.

    What the Democrats fail to realize is that people’s views aren’t fixed. On some issues, particularly gay rights, they just naturally shift to the left over time. Political campaigns, especially the official positions of mainstream political groupings, have a strong center-shifting potential. When Dean signed civil unions into law in Vermont, it signaled that marriage equality was a mainstream liberal issue, increasing the public support of both civil unions (now the centrist position) and gay marriage (now the mainstream liberal position). When the religious right started a backlash after the Massachusetts decision, the public support of both civil unions and gay marriage shrank, before increasing again after the anti-gay fervor stopped having a national platform.

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