Have Civil Unions Worked?

Perhaps Not. Perhaps So. 

That is not the question the Assembly should be considering when deciding the fate of the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemptions Act

The heart of the argument for same sex marriage advocates is that civil unions have not worked in establishing the rights and benefits that married couples enjoy to same sex committed couples, as the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered.

The anecdotal evidence that the gay community has provided to “prove” that civil unions don’t work has been compelling enough to cause some state legislators to change their position on same sex marriage since the issue was voted on in the Senate in 2006.   Senator Shirley Turner voted YES for the marriage equality bill yesterday.  She told Politickernj,

“I was wrestling with this,” said Turner, who was the 24th”aye” vote. “I felt we could accomplish it with civil unions but from what I have been hearing from gays and lesbians, they have been telling me it was not working. They were not being treated as equals, and I don’t want anyone being treated unequally.”

Assemblyman Peter Barnes, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is a Catholic who was previously opposed to same sex marriage.  On February 2 he voted with his committee, 5-2, to move the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemptions Act to the full Assembly. 

Barnes said it was the job of legislators to “tackle the difficult issues, whether we agree or disagree,” and his Catholic faith had put him at odds with this issue.  Barnes told Politickernj,

“As a Catholic, as  I really struggled with this over the past (few) years,” he said. “Tradition has not always been good, and it has not always been fair. Tradition can’t control our vote.”

“I will absolutely be voting for this out of committee today, and I am absolutely leaning in favor of voting for this on the floor,” Barnes said. “The civil union is not working…I don’t think reasonable minds can even disagree on that.”

“The civil union is not working….I don’t think reasonable minds can even disagree on that.”

A reasoning mind, which is very different from a reasonable would want more than heart wrenching stories and anecdotes from advocates before concluding that “the civil union is not working.”

One could easily make a reasonable argument that the civil union has worked.  There were 5,790 civil unions registered from 2007 through 2011 and less than 20 civil rights complaints.  If judged only by those statistics, a reasonable mind would conclude that civil unions have worked extraordinarily well. 

But that is a reasonable conclusion, not a reasoning conclusion.

Patrick Murray, the Monmouth University pollster, blogged:

The New Jersey Supreme Court declared that the state must provide and protect identical legal rights for civilly joined same sex couples as it does for married heterosexual couples. Same sex marriage advocates argue this hasn’t happened in practice under the state’s civil union law.  They have provided witnesses who give compelling stories of instances when their rights were denied.  Opponents have argued these are isolated instances that can be corrected with improvements to existing law.

The researcher in me says there is a pretty easy way to determine this.  Take a random sample of same sex civil union couples and a matched sample of heterosexual couples married at the same time and survey them.  If the former group has had significantly more problems with health insurance, parental rights, having next of kin rights honored, etc. – then the argument that civil unions don’t meet the Court’s mandate would be strong.  If not, perhaps the incidents are isolated and modifications to the current bill are all that is needed.  This is something that should be examined honestly by our three governmental branches.

Murray’s methodology would bring far more reasoning to the debate than there has been to date.   Such a study would be examined honestly by our three governmental branches, if they were serious about the issue and not playing politics.  If Murray or another pollster could construct a poll that tested the veracity of the respondents while collecting the data, such a study would be very useful.

Yet, such a study would not resolve the issue. 

If the study concluded that civil unions are working, gay marriage advocates would emphasize other arguments, “separate but equal” perhaps, in their fight to have their relationships called marriages.

If the study concluded that civil unions are not working, the reasonable approach, the approach that gay marriage advocates are pushing and reasonable minds are falling for, would be to call the relationships marriages. 

A reasoning approach, assuming the objective is equal rights and benefits, would be to study why civil unions haven’t worked.  Assuming that the relationships will not continue to suffer the inequities conveyed in the anecdotal stories the legislative committees have relied upon as evidence that civil unions are not working is not reasonable or reasoning.  Changing the name of the relationships from civil unions to marriages will not be a panacea.

Civil unions were a completely new distinction in 2007.  Employers, hospitals and others who have “caused” the inequities or inconveniences that same sex couples have suffered did not know what civil unions were.  The forms that triage nurses used to admit patients into hospitals and the human resource personnel used to process employees did not have a box to check that said “civil union.”   There was one heart wrenching story of a New York doctor saying “What the heck is that?” to a partner of a trauma patient explaining his relationship as next of kin.  The doctor didn’t buy or understand that the partner was next of kin to his patient and the patient’s sister had to travel from Delaware to authorize “emergency” treatment.  There will likely be other doctors who say “What the heck?” when a partner says “I’m his husband” when arguing that he is authorized to approve treatment. 

Same sex couples argue that they shouldn’t have to carry official paperwork that explains and proves their relationship anymore than married couples should have to.  All it will take is one multi-million dollar suit involving a partner who lies about martial status to authorize treatment that goes wrong before hospitals require all couples, gay or straight, to produce there relationship certificates before treating incapacitated patients.

“Why haven’t civil unions worked?” if they haven’t, is both a reasonable and reasoning question that should be asked if the objective of the Legislature is to ensure that same sex couples have equal rights.   

There has been no effective method to ensure that civil unions work. 

Garden State Equality, the gay advocacy group leading the way to same sex marriage has not wanted civil unions to work.  They encourage their members to report discrimination to on their website.  They don’t encourage civil rights complaints to the authorities.   That explains why there is so much anecdotal evidence that civil unions don’t work and so few complaints.

Steve Goldstein, CEO of Garden State Equality, was Vice Chairman of the Civil Union Review Commission that concluded in 2008, one year after the civil union law became effective, that civil unions don’t work.  Goldstein’s participation on the commission was clearly a conflict, especially in light of his work to ensure that civil unions not work by using stories of discrimination to advance his same sex marriage agenda and by encouraging his members to report discrimination to Garden State Equality rather than the Division of Civil Rights.

The question for legislators in the Assembly considering the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemptions Act should not be “Have civil unions worked?”   Despite the reasonable evidence that they have worked—so few complaints with the Civil Right Division—there will be much work to do to ensure the civil rights of same sex couples even if their relationships are called marriages.

The question before members of the Assembly should be “What is marriage?”

Posted: February 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: marriage, Marriage Equality and Religious Exemptions Act | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments »

25 Comments on “Have Civil Unions Worked?”

  1. Justified Right said at 12:02 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    I agree with your thesis that the inquiry as presented by the legislators you quoted is inapposite to the issue.

    However, I also disagree with your definitional inquiry as being relevant.

    The issue at hand is first the reach of government power and second the equalization of individual rights and government obligations once government power is used.

  2. ArtGallagher said at 1:23 pm on February 14th, 2012:


    The definitional inquiry is very much relevant.

    Both the civil rights issue and the definition of marriage issue are part of the bill.


    Like you, I would prefer that the question at hand is the reach of government power. However, that is not the question the legislature is addressing.

  3. Justified Right said at 1:47 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    The courts will address government power, no matter how many words the legislature wastes discussing definitions.

  4. ArtGallagher said at 1:52 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    It was the court that ordered the legislature to give same sex couples the right to marry or create another way for those couples to enjoy the same rights and benefits that married couples do.

    Should the U.S. Supreme Court rule that states regulating or defining marraige violates the Constitution, this issue would be resolved.

    There would then me many new issues, polygamy among them, that would arise.

  5. notabigdeal said at 2:01 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    Let gay couples marry. This falls in the same category as letting black people sit in the front of the bus. It’s 2012 people. The worst thing that will happen is NJ will score some additional tourism dollars (our biggest industry) from out-of-state gay couples getting married here.

  6. MLaffey said at 2:28 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    Art, Of course Civil Unions work. In fact before the Civil Union Law took effect gay couples could get 90 percent of what they got under the Civil Union Law with some estate planning and document preparation. The missing piece was access to employee benefits and pensions which they now have under Civil Unions.

    The current debate is not about civil rights. It is about two things. From the politicians point of view (especially the Democrats) it is about politicians using the issue to score political points.

    From the point of view of the gay community it is about public relations. They want a governmental seal of approval on homosexual relationships. All they are gaining is a word “marriage”. It will not give anyone any rights they do not already have. What it will do is give them the ability to say to the heterosexual community that the government has decreed that my relationship is no different then yours. Gay sex and Gay relationships are equal to what heterosexuals do.
    It has never been about Civil Rights. It is about the right to use a powerful word.

    Whether you are for or against gay marriage lets at least be honest about what we are really debating.

  7. Justified Right said at 3:00 pm on February 14th, 2012:


    You don’t address the people who believe this to be a debate about government power.

    For those of us who believe it to be about that, do you doubt our intentions too?

  8. ArtGallagher said at 3:17 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    For those of us who believe it to be about that, do you doubt our intentions too?

    I doubt the intentions of many making the argument that government should not be in the marriage business.

    The first person I heard make the argument was former Governor Christine Todd Whitman. I don’t believe Whitman to be someone who truly believes in limited government.

    I suspect that most people making the argument are using it as a cop-out. I think if they were pressed on the issue, i.e. should polygomy be illegal, should spouses have different treatment under the tax code than single people, they would cave and say that government should be regulating adult relationships or at least encouraging monogamous adult relationships.

  9. Justified Right said at 3:37 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    My experience with those of us who say government should be out of the marriage sacrament is opposite from your prediction, Art.

  10. ArtGallagher said at 3:50 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    I don’t doubt your experience, Tommy.

    Yet, I don’t know of a religious leader or cleric arguing that government should get out of the marriage business. Quite the contrary. In my experience, those who administer sacraments are arguing either for or against gay marriage.

  11. Justified Right said at 4:00 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    I wouldn’t rely on the clerics as (I imagine) many are pushing for a government resolution that conforms to their religious beliefs.

    Those of us who belive in limiting government power and individual freedoms are the ones I refer to.

  12. ArtGallagher said at 4:03 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    I’m with you there.

  13. frithguild said at 4:04 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    The legislature said they were going to address the trouble with my car insurance. What happened to that?

    This is just a question of economic allocation. There is a legal presumption that a married couple will procreate. Whoever has gone that route understands, like when your baby has deprived you of sleep for a year or so, or when you discover your teen has the addiction gene, that married people need help.

    A relationship that is based on gratification rather than procreation should be favored, but not the the same manner as a relationship based on procreation. The state interests in continuing a gratification relationship, and the stresses that act to pull it apart, are completely dissimilar than the state interests and stresses that inhere in a procreation relationship.

    Why does it make sense as a matter of economic allocation to have both feed at the same government trough?

  14. Justified Right said at 4:14 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    What financial benefits do married couples get outside of inheritence situations?

    For most of my married life there was a higher income tax associated with marriage, not a lower one.

  15. MLaffey said at 4:18 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    No Tom I don’t doubt your intentions I just disagree with you. If that is your issue then you should still be against this bill and in favor of a constitutional amendment getting government out of the marriage business. This bill just enmeshes government in more peoples lives.

  16. frithguild said at 4:36 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    >>>What financial benefits do married couples get outside of inheritence situations?<<<

    By economic allocation I mean more than strictly “financial benefits.” “Married couples have 1,138 federal rights, protections and responsibilities,” if you accept the opinion of NOW. Seeking those benefits by those not involved in procreation is simply “rent seeking.”

  17. Justified Right said at 4:51 pm on February 14th, 2012:


    While my preferred method is for there to be no government licencing of marriage, if there is going to be, then I at least want it done within the confines of equal protection.

    So I would favor this law over the status quo.

  18. Justified Right said at 4:55 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    Actually the 1,138 identified rights stemming from marriage isn’t the opinion of NOW.

    That figure came from the federal GAO:


  19. MLaffey said at 5:29 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    But only the NJ State related rights are at issue. Rights they already have so to the extent equal protection comes into play gay people already have it.

  20. Justified Right said at 6:28 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    Not the right to buy a marriage license.

  21. Justified Right said at 6:30 pm on February 14th, 2012:

    Aside form the right to buy a license, you are wrong about the rest Mike.

    Many of those matters listed in the GAO report require a marriage from a state.

  22. ArtGallagher said at 6:43 pm on February 14th, 2012:


    That GAO report was regarding the Defense of Marriage Act.

    Should the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemptions Act become law in New Jersey, would same sex married couples enjoy the rights listed in the report?

  23. Justified Right said at 3:21 pm on February 15th, 2012:

    Art you have to look at each one individually

  24. frithguild said at 4:52 pm on February 15th, 2012:

    >>>Art you have to look at each one individually<<<

    So we have to pass it to see what’s in it?

  25. Justified Right said at 5:56 pm on February 15th, 2012:

    frithguild said at 4:52 pm on February 15th, 2012:
    >>>Art you have to look at each one individually<<< So we have to pass it to see what’s in it?

    Or click on the link and read it.