Questions, Answers on Gay Marriage in NJ

by Geoff Mulvihill

Associated Press

Thursday October 24, 2013

Gay marriage became legal in New Jersey this week, a cause for celebration for same-sex couples who have been pushing for nuptials for years but also the source of some legal confusion.

Following is a look, in question and answer form, at some details that may not be settled in the immediate aftermath of the arrival of same-sex marriage in the state.

Q. How did gay marriage become legal in the state?

A. A judge ruled in September that New Jersey had to recognize same-sex marriages starting Oct. 21. The administration of Gov. Chris Christie appealed and asked for a delay in the implementation date.

The state Supreme Court said unanimously last week that it would not delay the start of the nuptials. They began Monday, and hours later, a Christie spokesman said the appeal would be dropped.

The state is the 14th in the country to recognize same-sex marriage.

Q. What should couples with civil unions in New Jersey do? Are they considered married already?

A. The state Health Department is advising those 16,000 or so couples that their civil unions remain in effect and that they are not converted automatically to marriage. While civil unions are intended to confer all the state-granted legal benefits of marriage, they do not entitle couples to many of the federal benefits. The gay rights group Garden State Equality is advising couples with civil unions to get married.

Q. What about same-sex couples married legally in another state?

A. This is murkier. Heterosexual couples married out of state are considered wed in New Jersey. But the court decision does not address how this works for gay couples. Garden State Equality executive director Troy Stevenson said he wants the state attorney general to issue an opinion clarifying the matter. The attorney general, however, has not released such an opinion, though the state Health Department does consider those couples as renewing their commitment and says they do not have to wait 72 hours before being granted marriage licenses the way newly married couples do.

Q. Do clergy have to perform the weddings even if they object to same-sex marriage?

A. No. Advocates say they're protected by the U.S. Constitution from having to do so.

Q. Will lawmakers still try to override Christie's 2012 veto of a bill to allow gay marriage?

A. Gay rights leaders and lawmakers who support them are trying to figure this out. They could attempt the override so there would be a law that would clarify the issues that are legally murky, they could try to pass a new bill to deal with some or all of the issues, or they could not have any legislation on the topic. Republicans could balk at overriding Christie's veto, something the Legislature has never done to this governor.

Q. Garden State Equality is best known as advocating for gay marriage. What's the group's future?

A. Stevenson said the group will continue pressing for other legal changes to help gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. But more of its focus now will be on education, including making sure couples know their rights now that marriage is legal.

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