Division on Civil Rights Issues Violations to 5 NJ Municipalities for LGBTQIA+ Discrimination
NJ Division on Civil Rights (DCR) launched a new enforcement initiative this week to hold municipalities accountable for LGBTQIA+ discrimination in Marriage Licensing. The new initiative aims to ensure that municipal governments across the state do not discriminate against or exclude LGBTQIA+ individuals seeking to obtain marriage licenses.
As part of the Marriage Equality enforcement initiative, the NJ DCR is issuing Notices of Violation to five (5) New Jersey municipalities: Estell Manor, Fairview, Hanover, Linden, and South Toms River.
These five municipalities have published on their websites marriage licensing information that limits the availability of licenses to opposite-gender couples and excludes marriage license applicants with nonbinary gender identities.
In each case, the Notices of Violation advise that language either previously or currently posted on the municipalities’ vital records webpage, marriage application instructions, or marriage applications violate the Law Against Discrimination (LAD).
“Marriage equality is the law here in New Jersey. But when municipalities use language indicating that individuals cannot obtain a marriage license based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, they violate that basic promise,” said Attorney General Platkin.
Among other things, the LAD prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of real or perceived sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and gender expression. The LAD also makes it unlawful for a place of public accommodation to display or post any communication or notice indicating that any of their offerings are unavailable based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
The Marriage Equality enforcement initiative DCR has launched this week is designed to ensure municipalities comply with the LAD by providing gender-inclusive and non-discriminatory marriage licensing applications and instructions to the public.
The discriminatory language used by municipalities to describe marriage licensing requirements was first flagged in Marriage Equality in New Jersey: A Latina/o/x Perspective, a joint report issued in July 2022 by the Latino Action Network, Hudson P.R.I.D.E Center, and Garden State Equality. The report found that the websites of certain municipalities expressly limited marriage licenses to “opposite-sex couples.”
DCR subsequently conducted its own investigation and confirmed the use of discriminatory language on the municipalities’ marriage-related web pages.
“This initiative is extremely important to all LGBTQIA+ folks statewide. While LGBTQIA+ couples have legally been able to get married since 2013, many of the local municipalities have not made this easy,” said Elizabeth Schedl, Executive Director of the Hudson P.R.I.D.E Center. “After almost 10 years of legalized marriage in New Jersey, we are still demanding non-discriminatory marriage licensing applications. Exclusionary language that does not include or acknowledge our gender diverse community can have a very negative impact on people and their experience going through the marriage process — an experience that is supposed to be one of the best in their lives.”
The Notices of Violation issued by DCR warn each municipality that the information published on their websites violates the LAD and that such violations could result in financial penalties of up to $10,000.
The notices also contain an offer of settlement in each case. The offer of settlement explains that, if the municipalities do not contest the facts as set out by DCR, they can resolve the issue by entering into an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance agreement that requires, among other things, that they:
- Update their websites to expressly state that marriage licenses are available to qualifying couples of all gender compositions;
- Update their websites to include, or link to, the New Jersey Department of Health’s Application for License: Marriage, Remarriage, Civil Union or Reaffirmation of Civil Union, as well as DOH’s Same-Sex Marriage Frequently Asked Questions.
- Update their written policies pertaining to nondiscrimination, including LGBTQIA+ discrimination, in places of public accommodation, including online services, consistent with the LAD;
- Provide training to all municipal employees involved with drafting website language and in issuing marriage licenses on compliance with the LAD, particularly as it pertains to protections for LGBTQIA+ persons in places of public accommodation, including online services;
- Make a payment to DCR in lieu of the penalty.
The Marriage Equality enforcement initiative, announced this week, will be an ongoing effort as DCR continues to investigate other possible violations related to the posting of marriage licensing information by New Jersey municipalities.
To find out more information from the Division of Civil Rights, click here.
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