In a shift from last year when a similar bill was defeated, the New Jersey State Senate and State Assembly both voted to approve the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act (A1), which would make same-sex marriage legal in New Jersey, and which would redefine “marriage” as the “legally recognized union of two consenting persons in a committed relationship.” However, on February 17, 2012, Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill, explaining his belief that the same-sex marriage issue should be decided not by legislation but instead by a referendum submitted to New Jersey citizens. It does not appear that the necessary 27 votes in the Senate and 54 votes in the Assembly are in place to override the Governor’s veto, but proponents of the bill will have until January 2014 to attempt to do so.

Employers should note that the bill was in part the product of testimony and evidence demonstrating that numerous employers in New Jersey have denied equal benefits to civil union partners who lack marital status “thus perpetuating inequality and hardship.” However, in the event the bill is enacted, serious issues exist regarding the availability of health and other benefits for employees who marry their same-sex partners (taking into account, among other things, the federal Defense of Marriage Act), as well as, the federal and state tax implications of doing so. The states which have adopted same-sex marriage (including among others Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York) have taken varying approaches to these complex issues.

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