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Civil Unions

This page provides information on how you get a civil union in New Jersey. Below we walk you through every step of the process.

But first, a bit about New Jersey’s civil union law. The law purports to provide same-sex couples all the state rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage but without the name “marriage.” In the real world, the law does no such thing. It is a civil rights failure.

Since New Jersey’s civil union law took effect in February 2007, many employers across New Jersey have refused to recognize civil unions as equal to marriage, and therefore do not grant equal health benefits to partners of employees. Employers and hospitals say that if the legislature intended for the civil union law to be the same as marriage, the legislature would have used the same name.

Because these employers and hospitals don’t recognize civil unions as they would marriage, many same-sex couples go without adequate health insurance – a horror in this economy. And because of the real-world disparity between civil unions and marriage, some hospitals do not allow civil union partners to make medical decisions for one another, or even to visit one another in the emergency room.

To read more about the civil union law and how it falls short of real marriage equality, visit our web page on marriage equality.

If you are in a civil union, and a hospital, employer or other institution has refused to recognize your civil union as it would a marriage, please call Garden State Equality at (973) GSE-LGBT or complete Garden State Equality’s civil union complaint form, which we will get directly.

Now, here are the six steps you need to know about getting a civil union in New Jersey.

Step one is to consider getting married in another state, such as neighboring New York, instead of getting a civil union in New Jersey.

If you are a same-sex couple living in New Jersey or elsewhere, you have the option of marrying in a state that allows same-sex couples to marry.  Those states include New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa, as well as the District of Columbia.

If you are a New Jersey couple, when you get back home, our state will recognize your out-of-state marriage as the equivalent of a New Jersey civil union, but still not as a marriage.

The advantage of getting married in another state, versus getting a civil union in New Jersey, is that states with marriage equality are more likely to recognize you and your partner as married when you travel to those states.  You might even have a chance in situations in states that don’t have marriage equality if you deal with someone who respects the word “marriage.”

But if you still want to get a civil union in New Jersey, please read on.

Step two is obtaining and submitting the civil union application.

Click here to access the State of New Jersey’s official application. You may print and complete the application before you present it to municipal hall, i.e. municipal/city/town/borough/village hall. But each of you should not sign the application until you’re at municipal hall so that the registrar or clerk can witness your signatures.

If you and your partner are New Jersey residents and already live together, you must submit your application at the municipal hall in which the two of you live. If you and your partner are New Jersey residents but you don’t yet live together, you can submit your application at the municipal hall in the municipality in which either of you live.

If neither you nor your partner is a New Jersey resident, yes, you can get a civil union in New Jersey – our state does not have a residency requirement. You, both nonresidents, must submit your application at the municipal hall in the New Jersey municipality where you intend to have your civil union ceremony. If only one of you is a New Jersey resident, you must submit your application at the municipal hall in the municipality where the New Jersey resident lives.

However, our suggestion to out-of-state couples is this: Instead of getting a civil union in New Jersey, consider getting married in one of the states that allow same-sex couples to marry, including nearby Connecticut or Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire or Iowa. Even if you live in a state that does not recognize same-sex relationships of any kind, the term “married” is far more understood, and may have more persuasive value where you live, that the arcane term “civil union.” We’re aiming to win marriage equality soon in New Jersey so you can really marry in our state.

To all couples: If you’ve heard that a small number of mayors in New Jersey are not performing civil union ceremonies, this has absolutely nothing to do with submitting your application. You still submit your application at the municipal hall in the municipality according to the aforementioned rules. Who performs your ceremony is another step, which we’ll discuss below.

When you submit your application at municipal hall, you must bring:

  • $28. Some municipalities accept only cash, others only a check. We recommend you call municipal hall first to find out. Ask for the “registrar or clerk who handles marriage and civil union applications.”To find the telephone number and address of your municipal hall, click here to visit a very handy webpage from New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs . When you enter your county and municipality, the information for your municipal hall will pop up.
  • Identification. Again, we recommend you call municipal hall and ask for the “registar or clerk who handles marriage and civil union applications.” Different municipalities are asking for various kinds of identification. The bottom line:(a) Each of you must bring government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license or passport.

    (b) Each of you must submit your social security number — you don’t need your actual social security card. If one or both of you is a foreign citizen, please submit your equivalent of a social security number.

    (c) Each of you must bring additional identification that has proof of your names and address(es), which can include current lease(s) and current utility bill(s). It doesn’t hurt to bring as much as you can.

    (d) You do not need to present your birth certificates or copies. Municipalities that ask for this are wrong.

    But again, please call ahead.

  • You must bring one adult witness with you, at least 18 years of age, who knows you both. No exceptions. Your witness need not be a New Jersey resident.
  • The application asks you to fill out the New Jersey municipality where you intend to have your civil union ceremony, the date of your ceremony, and who will be conducting the ceremony.

You must therefore know this information when you fill out the application.

Step three is returning to the same municipal hall no less than 72 hours later, but no more than 60 calendar days later, to pick up your civil union license.

The waiting period is three calendar days, not three business days. For example, if you submit your application at municipal hall on a Friday morning, you can pick up your license at that municipal hall the following Monday morning. Best not to wait even close to 60 days to pick up your application. Do it as close to the 72-hour waiting period as you can to prevent any bureaucratic mishap.

Before you pick up your license – say, at the time your submit your application – ask whether one or both of you needs to return to that municipal hall to pick up the license.

Step four is your actual civil union ceremony, which must occur within 30 calendar days of your picking up your civil union license.

Your ceremony must be in New Jersey. It can be officiated by any clergy member; or by any New Jersey mayor, deputy mayor or head of a New Jersey municipal council, such as a municipal/city/town/borough/village council president; or by certain judges, certain retired judges, or certain other public officials.

Besides your officiant, your ceremony must have two adult witnesses, at least 18 years of age, who know you both. No exceptions. One of the two adult witnesses may be the witness who signed your application. None of the witnesses need be a New Jersey resident.

If you choose to have a clergy member perform your civil union ceremony, it does not matter whether the clergy member lives or practices in New Jersey. You can choose a clergy member from New Jersey or elsewhere, so long as the ceremony is in New Jersey.

If you choose to have a mayor, deputy mayor or head of a New Jersey municipal council perform your civil union ceremony, he or she does not need to be from the New Jersey municipality where you are holding your ceremony. But he or she must hold one of the aforementioned positions in some New Jersey municipality. Again, the ceremony must be in New Jersey.

Garden State Equality sometimes get telephone calls from concerned couples in municipalities whose mayors have said they will not perform civil unions. That’s legal so long as the mayors also do not perform opposite-sex marriages. But again, you have many options for an officiant. You do not need to choose the mayor of the municipality where you live.

Some mayors, particularly in larger municipalities, do not perform any marriages or civil unions because their other job demands are great. This is their prerogative. If you are interested in having your mayor, deputy mayor or municipal council head perform your civil union ceremony, call ahead. Again, to find the phone number for your local municipal officials, click here to visit the handy webpage from New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs.

If you need help finding an officiant, please contact Garden State Equality at (973) GSE-LGBT or Contact@GardenStateEquality.org. We know mayors and clergy who enjoy performing civil union ceremonies of whichever same-sex couples ask.

Step five is making sure your officiant files your signed civil union license, within five days after the ceremony, in the municipality where your ceremony took place.

You may wish to make it easy for your officiant by giving him or her a pre-paid, overnight-delivery service envelope, also pre-addressed by you with the name and address of the clerk or registrar of the municipality. Call to find out the name of the registrar or clerk to whom the envelope should be mailed. Again, to find the phone number for your local municipal officials, click here to visit the handy webpage from New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs. If you haven’t gotten your civil union certificate in the mail within 90 days of your ceremony, call the register or clerk in the municipality where your ceremony took place.

Step six comes after you are officially in a civil union.

Contact Garden State Equality at (973) GSE-LGBT or Contact@GardenStateEquality.org if you or your partner’s employer, insurer, hospital or any other institution does not recognize your civil union. This not only allows us to help you, but also empowers all of us to demonstrate that New Jersey needs marriage equality.

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