TRENTON – Five municipalities were issued violation notices by the state for having marriage licensing information on their websites that limits the availability of licenses to opposite-gender couples and excludes applicants with a nonbinary gender identity.

Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced Thursday that the Division on Civil Rights launched an 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 that, the division issued notices of violation to Estell Manor, Fairview, Hanover, Linden and South Toms River.

The violations say that language either previously or currently posted on the municipalities’ vital records webpage, marriage application instruction, or marriage applications themselves violate the state’s Law Against Discrimination, which prohibits any communication or notice indicating that offerings are unavailable based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and gender expression.

Estell Manor marriage license document as of Oct. 6, 2022.
Estell Manor marriage license document as of Oct. 6, 2022.
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“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.

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Most of the websites appear to have already been changed to correct the violations, though the marriage license application posted by Estell Manor still says that to file for a marriage license, the couple must be of the opposite sex

The issue with the municipal websites expressly limiting marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples was first raised in a July report issued by the Latino Action Network, Hudson PRIDE Center, and Garden State Equality.

The state Division on Civil Rights confirmed it in its own follow-up investigation.

Why 'language matters'

The specifics varied by town but included statements that only “opposite sex” couples may enter into marriage and application fields that prohibited nonbinary people from applying for licenses unless they misgender themselves as male or female.

“Ensuring access to marriage equality in New Jersey requires cultural changes in how we talk about couples, people, and families,” said Jesselly De La Cruz, executive director for the Latino Action Network Foundation.

“Language matters and we hope municipalities can learn to let go of historically exclusive gendered language such as Bride and Groom when describing a process for obtaining a marriage license.”

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in New Jersey since 2013.

The notices of violations warn municipalities the violations could result in financial penalties of up to $10,000.

The notices also contain an offer of settlement in which the matter can be resolved if they make a payment to the state, update their websites to provide marriage licenses to couples of all gender compositions, link to the state’s marriage application and other same-sex marriage information and update nondiscrimination policies and training.

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