Dispatches from the Creation Wars

NJ Officials and Civil Unions

With New Jersey now allowing civil unions, the state’s attorney general is warning public officials that if they choose to perform marriage ceremonies, they must also perform civil unions for gay couples.

In a legal opinion by N.J. Attorney General Stuart Rabner issued to municipal officials Rabner said that if they conduct ceremonies for opposite-sex couples they must also perform civil unions.

In a separate communication to local officials John M. Carbone, an attorney representing county clerks and surrogates in all 21 New Jersey counties, advises “Either do marriages and civil unions, or do nothing.”

Under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination any official who performs ceremonies for opposite-sex couples but refuses to conduct civil unions could be removed from office and subjected to fines beginning at $10,000 for the first offense Rabner said.

Seems reasonable to me. Regardless of their private views, as government officials they cannot engage in discrimination in carrying out their duties.

Comments

  1. #1 The Ridger
    December 30, 2006

    Sure. Because (as I have said before and will probably, sigh, have to say again): what would be next? “I don’t approve of divorce and remarriage, so I won’t officiate at the marriage of any divorced people” or “I don’t believe in interfaith marriages so I won’t officiate for people of different religions”? It’s legal. It’s civil. Get over it.

  2. #2 Unsympathetic reader
    December 30, 2006

    States manage civil unions. Religious organizations manage marriages. That’s why I’ve never been comfortable with ministers being certified for performing both functions: A church should be under no obligation to officiate marriages of the sorts they disapprove. Likewise, a church marriage alone should have no civil impact.

    But you might want to see how Massachusetts manages those who prefer to not officiate gay marriages. I think they may allo some weasel room.

    Similar note: Pharmacists being allowed to opt out of filling prescriptions for treatments because of religious conflicts.

  3. #3 MAJeff
    December 30, 2006

    States manage civil unions. Religious organizations manage marriages.

    Um, no. States manage marriage. Here in Massachusetts, civil authorities have been responsible for doing so since the Pilgrims landed.

    A church should be under no obligation to officiate marriages of the sorts they disapprove. Likewise, a church marriage alone should have no civil impact.

    And neither is actually the case. The state does not recognize religious rites, nor does it say have any say over whom the church will grant the right to have such rites. The state is only interested in who meets its criteria for marriage. Clergy are proxy representatives of the state who are performing two functions when they marry couples. I say take away their role as state proxies and have couples do both a civil and religious ceremony, if they want both. I don’t support giving marriage solely to religious institutions.

    But you might want to see how Massachusetts manages those who prefer to not officiate gay marriages. I think they may allo some weasel room.

    No, we don’t. If you are a civil authority (i.e., a justice of the peace) who performs marriages, you perform marriages. Doesn’t matter the gender composition of the couple.

  4. #4 Brian X
    December 30, 2006

    I think it’s actually quite an argument for the French way of doing things — religious marriages are strictly pro forma, it’s signing the license down at City Hall that counts. The Massachusetts marriage laws are a little unusual though — anyone can officiate at a ceremony as long as they have authorization from Beacon Hill (I think it’s constitutionally supposed to go through the Governor’s office, but I don’t know how it’s handled in practice).

    Furthermore it’s a state issue anyway — that’s why absolutely nobody got on board with the Federal Restriction of Marriages amendment. It really is a state’s rights issue.

  5. #5 Unsympathetic reader
    December 31, 2006

    MAjeff writes: “Um, no. States manage marriage. Here in Massachusetts, civil authorities have been responsible for doing so since the Pilgrims landed.

    I agree that people call it “marriage” and I recognize the centuries of precedent for naming it as such. But I think it’s a bit sloppy. It’s actually a civil union or special type of contract that establishes legal relationships which states recognize. As you’ve noted, this is in contrast to religiously sanctioned marriages. I’m content with handing over the term “marriage” to anyone or any group that wants to have it and reserve “civil unions” for legally binding relationships. Basically, if people in a relationship want to call themselves “married”, they should do so (That’s between them and God or whatever). But if they want to establish a state recognized legal relationship, they’d better apply for a civil union. I think that could go a long way to removing a lot of the baggage associated with the term “marriage”. A schizophrenic solution perhaps, but possibly a useful crutch until people can come to terms the reality. I’ve always been for the French and German models of separate state and church ceremonies.

    PS – Excellent to hear that MA closed the door on “conscience clauses”. I remembered that there was a request to allow weaseling-out of civic duties. I didn’t follow what happened.

  6. #6 Fastlane
    January 2, 2007

    The reference to how France does it is actually how it is done here in the US (at least in AZ, were I got married). You can have as many ceremonies as you want, but it’s the marriage license signed by both parties and a legitimate witness (who is often a clergy member) that is the legal basis for the marriage/union.

    I have no problem with clergy acting as a proxy for the state, as long as that ability is open to any who wish to act in the same manner (and I think most sates allow this in some way now).

    There are many similar instances in many industires where a private individual acts as a proxy for the US government or state agencies.

    Cheers.

  7. #7 Kenneth Fair
    January 2, 2007

    There are many similar instances in many industires where a private individual acts as a proxy for the US government or state agencies.

    Notaries public, for instance, are private individuals appointed as state officers for the purpose of taking oaths and authenticating documents.

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