Civil Unions ≠ Marriage

Governor Christie, who vetoed marriage equality in New Jersey, disapproves of SCOTUS’s ruling:

Zack Ford counters Christie:

Besides the fact that a referendum continues to be a costly, offensive, and unnecessary option, Christie could not be more wrong; in fact, Wednesday’s DOMA decision probably has a bigger impact on New Jersey than on any other state. In the 2006 case Lewis v. Harris, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state’s constitution guarantees “every statutory right and benefit conferred to heterosexual couples through civil marriage.” The Court left it up to the legislature to determine how those rights are conferred, and lawmakers at the time passed a civil unions bill. An investigation that concluded in 2008 found that these “separate but equal” unions were inferior and did not meet the Supreme Court’s expectations, and a lawsuit is already pendingto challenge their unequal status.

With Wednesday’s ruling, the case against the civil unions becomes much more significant. Now, not only are civil unions inferior in how they’re respected in the state, they also deprive same-sex couples of all the federal benefits of marriage — the only union the federal government recognizes. A state judge has already scheduled a hearing for August 15 to fast-track Lambda Legal’s lawsuit in light of these new legal circumstances.

Barro looks at Christie’s past rhetoric on marriage and civil unions:

[Christie] said in a statement at the time he issued his veto: “I have been just as adamant that same-sex couples in a civil union deserve the very same rights and benefits enjoyed by married couples—as well as the strict enforcement of those rights and benefits.”

At the time, gay rights advocates disputed the notion that civil unions were equivalent to marriage. After [yesterday’s] decision, they are inarguably right. People in same-sex civil unions in New Jersey lack access to federal benefits that are available to straight New Jersey couples and will soon be available to same-sex married couples in states like New York. The only way to rectify that is to legalize gay marriage.

David Link also notes that, after yesterday’s ruling, it’s impossible to argue that civil unions are “marriage in all but name”:

The dynamics of marriage lite have now shifted. Only full marriage comes within the court’s ruling, a point made by both majority and dissenting justices. States will still have the ability to take half-measures, and I expect some will. But by doing so, they will be enacting laws they cannot expect to be fully equal to marriage. If they have any doubts, they can refer to Windsor.

So if the political argument continues to be about equality (and it should), anyone promoting civil unions as a political compromise will explicitly be compromising that.