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A lot of you know that when the New Jersey legislature decided to establish same sex civil unions a few months back, I was hesitant to celebrate. I had concerns that any institution that claimed to be "separate but equal" could truly ever be the latter. A recent dust-up with international shipping magnate UPS proves that the law is much weaker than even I imagined. On the front page of today's Newark Star Ledger, there is an article that describes the struggle faced by UPS employee Gabriael Brazier to have Heather Aurand, Brazier's same-sex partner, covered by her company health insurance. UPS denied coverage to Aurand, claiming that their decision was the fault of the NJ Legislature.

In a letter to Brazier, UPS wrote that the NJ Legislature, in enacting the state's civil union law, "did not go as far as Massachusetts and afford same-sex couples the ability to marry. Had the New Jersey Legislature done that, you could have added Ms. Aurand as a spouse under the plan." In other words, because NJ law does not call couples joined in civil union "spouses", they are denied equal benefits by UPS and 160 other companies who employ citizens of the Garden State.

Members of the legislature have expressed surprise that the law has been misinterpreted so severely, but I wonder how genuine their responses are. The applicable federal law on this subject-- the Defense of Marriage Act-- is clear. Corporations like UPS that employ people across state lines are governed by federal law, and federal law alone. The are allowed-- even encouraged--to deny benefits to partners in same sex unions.

The New Jersey legislature isn't naive. They have-- collectively-- been around the block quite a few times. In the face of this new loophole, the intentions behind their actions are questionable.
Now that they've done something it takes off a lot of the pressure to do more. Did they pass the civil union law to stave off debate of the true issue?

Even if the legislature had the best of intentions, the law they passed was, quite frankly, a wussy move. New Jersey is one of the bluest states in the nation, and if progress is not going to start there, where will it begin?

Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality sums up the difference between marriage and civil unions just about perfectly. "In the real world," he is quoted as saying, "civil unions are to marriage what artificial sweetener is to sugar. It's not the same thing and it leaves a bad aftertaste."