NEW JERSEY – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) announced Thursday the launch of a new Marriage Equality enforcement initiative to ensure that municipal governments across New Jersey do not discriminate against or exclude LGBTQIA+ individuals seeking to obtain marriage licenses.
As part of the Marriage Equality enforcement initiative, DCR is issuing Notices of Violation to five New Jersey municipalities: Estell Manor, Fairview, Hanover, Linden, and South Toms River. Those 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 a nonbinary gender identity.
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 themselves violate the LAD.
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, gender identity, and gender expression.
The Marriage Equality enforcement initiative DCR is launching today is designed to ensure municipalities comply with the LAD by providing gender-inclusive and non-discriminatory marriage licensing applications and instructions to the general public.
“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,” Platkin said. “The Marriage Equality enforcement initiative we announce today reflects our deep commitment to ensuring that, in both word and deed, municipal governments do not discriminate against couples seeking marriage licenses on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.”
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 posting of discriminatory language on the municipalities’ marriage-related web pages.
The specific offending language cited by DCR varied from municipality to municipality. It included statements that only “opposite sex” couples may enter into marriage, and application fields that prohibit nonbinary people for applying for licenses unless they misgender themselves as “male or “female.”
“It is unlawful for places of public accommodation in New Jersey to post or display communications restricting access to services based on protected characteristics,” said DCR Deputy Director Rosemary DiSavino. “DCR thanks our community partners for elevating the importance of website inclusivity. We will not tolerate LGBTQIA+ discrimination or any gender-based discrimination, and will do everything in our power to ensure that all 564 municipalities comply with the LAD.”
Among other things, the Notices of Violation issued by DCR warn each municipality that the information published on their websites violated 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 penalty.
The Marriage Equality enforcement initiative will be an ongoing effort as DCR continues to investigate other possible violations related to the posting of marriage licensing information by municipalities across the State.
The initiative is being led by DCR’s Strategic Initiatives and Enforcement Unit, including Interim Chief Aarin Williams and Legal Specialist Iris Bromberg. The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights enforces the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the New Jersey Family Leave Act, and the Fair Chance in Housing Act and works to prevent, eliminate, and remedy discrimination and bias-based harassment in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation throughout New Jersey.
To find out more information, visit www.njcivilrights.gov.