Five Municipalities Received Notices of Violation for Posting LGBTQIA+ Exclusionary Marriage License Applications or Marriage License Information on their Websites
TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) announced today that DCR has resolved the first set of enforcement actions it brought as part of its Marriage Equality Enforcement Initiative, which seeks to ensure that municipal governments across New Jersey do not discriminate against or exclude LGBTQIA+ individuals seeking to obtain marriage licenses.
The resolutions announced today involve five New Jersey municipalities – Estell Manor, Fairview, Hanover, Linden, and South Toms River – that previously published marriage licensing information on their websites that limited the availability of licenses to opposite-gender couples and excluded marriage license applicants with a nonbinary gender identity.
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.
“Marriage is a fundamental right, and in New Jersey, marriage equality is the law,” said Attorney General Platkin. “We launched the Marriage Equality Enforcement Initiative because of our deep commitment to ensuring that municipal governments uphold this basic promise, in both word and deed. The resolutions announced today bring our state one step closer to fulfilling that promise.”
“Our laws forbid discrimination in marriage licensing and other basic government services on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and no government here in New Jersey should stand in the way of that basic promise of equality,” said DCR Director Sundeep Iyer. “Today’s resolutions reflect our ongoing commitment to ensuring that marriage equality remains a reality for our state’s LGBTQIA+ residents.”
The websites for Estell Manor, Fairview, Hanover, Linden, and South Toms River allegedly violated the LAD by publishing marriage licensing information on their websites that limited the availability of licenses to opposite-gender couples and excluded marriage license applicants with a nonbinary gender identity. In each case, DCR issued Notices of Violation advising that language either previously or currently posted on the municipalities’ vital records webpage, marriage application instructions, or marriage applications themselves violated the LAD.
Four of the five enforcement actions – against Estell Manor, Fairview, Linden, and South Toms River – were promptly resolved through Assurances of Voluntary Compliance (AVC). As part of the resolutions, each municipality agreed to take the following actions:
- create a written policy prohibiting discrimination against persons seeking to use the municipality’s services;
- remove gender restrictive language regarding who may obtain a marriage license from its website, including language restricting marriage licenses to people of binary genders or to opposite gender couples;
- update its website to expressly state that marriage licenses are available to qualifying applicants of all gender compositions, including applicants seeking licenses for same-gender or same-sex marriages and non-binary applicants;
- agreed to make a payment to DCR; and
- train all employees involved in drafting website language and in issuing licenses on the requirements of the LAD.
The matter with Hanover Township was resolved by a Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA). DCR filed an administrative complaint against the Township after the Township was initially unwilling to resolve the matter prior to litigation. The terms of the NSA with Hanover Township are similar to the resolutions with the other four municipalities: Hanover Township has agreed to provide verification of a written policy it has adopted prohibiting discrimination against persons utilizing or seeking to utilize its services; remove gender restrictive language regarding who may obtain a marriage license from its website, including language restricting marriage licenses to people of binary genders or to opposite gender couples; update its website to expressly state that marriage licenses are available to qualifying couples of all gender compositions; make a payment to DCR; and train all employees involved in drafting website language and in issuing licenses on the requirements of the LAD.
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 Pride, and Garden State Equality. The report found that the websites of certain municipalities expressly limited marriage licenses to “opposite-sex couples.”
The Marriage Equality Enforcement Initiative is being led by DCR Senior Advisor for Affirmative Enforcement Iris Bromberg under the supervision of Associate Director Malcolm Peyton-Cook. The Hanover matter was handled by Division of Law Deputy Attorney General Nadya Comas under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General and Section Chief James Michael.
DCR is the state agency responsible for preventing and eliminating discrimination and bias-based harassment in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation (e.g., places open to the public like schools, businesses, hospitals, etc.). DCR enforces the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), the New Jersey Family Leave Act, and the Fair Chance in Housing Act (FCHA).
DCR has developed various fact sheets about the LAD’s protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression in housing, employment, and places open to the public. To find out more information, visit www.njoag.gov/about/divisions-and-offices/division-on-civil-rights-home/.