04/24/2007 01:30 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

NJ Civil Unions After Two Months & Why "Marriage" Still Matters

In Washington and New Hampshire, state governments have recently decided to bring same sex couples one step closer to equal recognition under the law, through domestic partnerships and civil unions (hopefully). But take heed: in the two months since civil unions were enacted here in New Jersey, the law passed in order to provide the rights and protection of civil marriage has fallen far short of its goal.

Civil unions and domestic partnerships may seem fine on paper, but they just don't work in the real world. Same sex couples in New Jersey can attest to that. Of the 575 couples registered as of April 20, many have alerted the advocacy group Garden State Equality that employers and insurers are denying them protection -- some 54 in all. That's a 10% rate of inadequate rights -- "one of the most astonishing rates of failure for a civil rights law in our lifetime," according to Garden State Equality chair Steven Goldstein. Not to mention that those 54 are just the ones we know about.

The New York Times documented several cases of legal discrimination earlier this month, and all in all, it came down to this simple fact: the spirit of the civil unions law -- bestowing all the rights of a civil marriage without using the actual word -- is not being met. This seems to be the intention of the state governments in Washington and New Hampshire; yet the laws being passed are inherently unequal. To paraphrase Nathaniel Persily, setting up a different legal structure for same sex couples invites employers and insurers to address those couples as ... well ... different.

"Marriage" matters. How many laws will have to be passed before we realize it?