In 2002, several couples filed a lawsuit in a New Jersey state court, alleging that they had been denied marriage licenses because they were same-sex applicants. The lawsuit, known as Lewis v. Harris, went up to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which held that New Jersey’s marriage laws violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause. The basis for the court’s opinion was that same-sex couples had been denied the rights and benefits given to opposite-sex couples, who were allowed to marry under New Jersey law.
To correct the problem, the New Jersey Legislature passed the Civil Union Law, which went into effect in early 2007. This law established civil unions as a legally recognized relationship between same-sex adults in committed relationships.
Since that time, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, requiring all 50 states to allow same-sex couples to marry and to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
Unlike some states, New Jersey retained its Civil Union Law and did not convert existing civil unions into marriages. New Jersey continues to recognize civil unions under its law. If a couple who entered into an earlier civil union wants to marry, they must meet the requirements for marriage under New Jersey law.
Likewise, a couple desiring to enter into a civil union must meet the legal requirements under the Civil Union Law outlined below:
The couple must not already be in a civil union, marriage, or domestic partnership
That was entered into in New Jersey or that New Jersey would recognize. There is one exception to this first requirement, which applies to a couple already registered as domestic partners with each other.
Only same-sex couples may enter into civil unions under New Jersey law.
Heterosexual couples are ineligible to establish civil unions in New Jersey.
The couple must meet age and/or consent requirements established by law
They may do this in one of three ways:
- Be over the age of 18;
- Be 16 or 17 years old with parental consent; or
- Be less than 16 years old with both parental consent and written consent from the family court.
There are several miscellaneous requirements a couple must meet:
- They must prove their identity with a valid driver’s license, passport, or governmental identification.
- They must show documents to prove their residency.
- They must have a witness who is at least 18 years old.
- They must pay a $28 fee by cash or check.
If they are U.S. citizens, they must also provide their Social Security numbers or their Social Security cards. Additional, optional documents include each partner’s birth certificate, as well as any papers showing the end of prior legal relationships (such as divorce decrees, civil union annulments, or domestic partnership terminations).
After a complete application is filed, there is a 72-hour waiting period. The license is then issued and is valid for six months. The local registrar has the authority to extend the application’s validity up to one year.
Couples who are already in a New Jersey civil union or in a comparable relationship under the laws of another state may reaffirm their civil union in New Jersey using a similar process. However, there is no 72-hour waiting period for these couples.
If you have questions about how New Jersey’s marriage or civil union laws apply to you, contact your local registrar’s office or a licensed New Jersey attorney.