NJ Domestic Partner Bill Passes Assembly

December 23, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - New Jersey's Domestic Partnership Act has passed the first legislative hurdle and now heads for the state Senate.

New Jersey’s legislative act, which would recognizehomosexual couples as legal entities, passed the Assembly December 15 by a 41-28 vote, the minimum needed for passage, and now heads for the Senate. The legislative body however must act before the January 13 close of the legislative session, according to a New Jersey Law Journal report.

The prospect of passage looks promising, as the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee last week recommended passage of an identical bill. Further, New Jersey governor James McGreevey has said he would sign it.

Should the bill pass and receive the governor’s signature, it would afford same-sex partners protections and benefits comparable to those enjoyed by married couples, without going so far as to confer the status of marriage to these couples. The act provides that two people of the same sex who are 18 years of age or older may jointly execute and file an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership with their local registrar, along with a fee to be set later, if:

  • both share a common residence in this state
  • both are otherwise jointly responsible for each other’s common welfare
  • both agree to be jointly responsible for each other’s basic living expenses during the domestic partnership
  • neither is in a marriage recognized by New Jersey law or a member of another domestic partnership
  • neither is related to the other
  • both are of the same sex and therefore unable to enter into a marriage with each other that is recognized by New Jersey law
  • both have chosen to share each other’s lives in a committed relationship of mutual caring
  • neither person has been a partner in a domestic partnership that was terminated less than 180 days before the filing –unless the earlier partner is dead.

Even though the domestic partners would remain “unmarried,” d issolution of a domestic partnership would be much the same as a divorce. For an uncontested dissolution, a couple would have to be separated for at least 18 months.

Benefit Impact

The impact to employee benefit plans, both in New Jersey and across the country, could be seismic. As more and more United States employers begin to offer domestic-partner benefits to unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples (SeeMore Employers Offering Same-Sex Domestic Partner Insurance), controversy around the country continues to pop up.

On the one side are proponents of extending benefits to domestic partners, among them US Senator and Presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) who promised to reintroduce a Senate bill granting the same benefits to domestic partners of federal workers as spouses currently receive. The legislation would give domestic partners life and health insurance, retirement pay, and compensation for on-the-job injuries. Domestic partners could be gay or straight, as long as they file an affidavit saying they are living together in a committed, intimate relationship, but are not married (See Lieberman Vows Federal Domestic Partner Benefits Bill ).

However, critics are quick to object to the notion, as was the case in Montana (See Montana Domestic Partner Benefit Bill Tabled ). There the naysayers said providing such benefits would escalate insurance rates, degrade the sanctity of marriage, and give special treatment to gays and lesbians. Cost issues were also brought when Minnesota defeated its version of the proposal (SeeMinnesota Governor to Sign Labor Bill Minus Domestic Partner Benefits).