The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Civil Unions vs. Equality.

Like I said before, civil unions are not equality. In fact, they don’t even qualify as “separate but equal,” because they don’t offer all the rights of marriage and they’re not necessarily recognized, as this news story bears out.

With New Jersey on the verge of passing a civil unions law for same-sex couples, Rick Connolly called his insurance company to see if he could add his partner of 23 years to his homeowner’s policy.

His partner could be added, Connolly was told, but not the same way as a spouse. The difference: If Connolly died, his partner would not be able to keep the policy.

The response is example of the confusion and frustration that might be in store for any gay couples who expect civil unions in New Jersey will give them the same rights as married couples.

“This is the first time in my life I’ve felt like going to a politician and saying, ‘What’s going on here?”‘ said Connolly, 63, of East Hanover, a former Army officer who is now retired from a career in the telephone industry.

… Stephen Hyland, a Princeton lawyer who published a legal guide to New Jersey’s domestic partnership, said federal taxes would be complicated for gay couples in New Jersey.

They won’t be able to file their federal returns jointly. But to file jointly on their state tax forms, they will still need to fill out the joint federal forms and send them to New Jersey, Hyland said.

Also, the civil unions bill requires companies that offer health insurance to spouses of their employees also offer it to civil union partners of workers. But for the civil union partner, unlike a spouse, those benefits would have to be reported as income to the IRS and would be subject to taxes, Hyland said.

Surviving partners won’t be able to collect deceased partners’ Social Security benefits and may not be able to collect their pensions, which fall under federal regulation, said Felice T. Londa, an Elizabeth-based family lawyer who represents many same-sex couples.

There’s another major tax issue regarding breakups of the relationships. Under federal law, alimony is not taxed.

But support paid from one partner to another when civil unions are dissolved would likely be subject to federal gift taxes, said Daniel Serviss, a Woodbridge-based matrimonial lawyer. Additionally, the couples in civil unions won’t necessarily have those unions recognized when they travel in states outside of New Jersey.

The article goes on, but the above is just a sampling of why civil unions create more questions than they resolve. Given what I said in the previous post, it’s also interesting to note that the article says gay couples in New Jersey are planning vacations that will take them only to states that have similar laws.

So, call it what you will, but don’t call it equality. Don’t even call it “separate but equal.” It’s more like “separate, but unequal.” In other words, very little has changed.


  1. I agree that civil unions still are not equivalent to marriage. I would add, however, that Massachusetts same-sex marriages also fall short of being real marriages, for the same reasons, all to do with lack of federal recognition.

    In fact, a gay friend of mine who works at a national corporation got married in Mass., and asked the HR department to list him as “married” in their system. The company has a long record of LGBT support (100% on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, sponsorship of LGBT events, etc.). The HR department said they could not list Mass. same-sex couples as married, however, as it would make it impossible for them to manage federal benefits and tax records accurately. This is not a case of bias–for I do believe the firm is committed to LGBT support–but rather one of federal laws tying the hands of even those states and companies that wish to recognize marriage equality.

    Until we have federal recognition of same-sex marriage, legal same-sex relationships, whatever we call them, will still require asterisks and footnotes. (Having said that, I think it’s much preferable to call them “marriages,” because of the historic connotations and rights that come with the term.)

  2. Separate is never equal.

    Two men or two women are no more “equal” to one man and one woman than two apples are “equal” to one apple and one orange. Two left shoes are both “shoes”, and they are “a pair”, but they can never equal “a pair of shoes” now can they? Why? Because separate is NEVER equal.