28 Municipalities Receive Notices of Violation for Publishing LGBTQIA+ Exclusionary Marriage License Application Forms On Their Websites
For Immediate Release: March 8, 2023
Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Attorney General
Division on Civil Rights
– Sundeep Iyer, Director
The Notices of Violation announced today have been issued to 28 municipalities that have posted marriage license application forms on their websites that do not permit nonbinary people to apply for marriage licenses unless they misgender themselves, under oath, as either “m” (male) or “f” (female). That practice is inconsistent with the marriage license application currently published by the New Jersey Department of Health, which has included a third gender option for nonbinary applicants and other people with undesignated or unspecified gender identities since 2019.
DCR has issued Notices of Violation to the following 28 municipalities: Audubon, Carney’s Point, Chester Township, Commercial, Delran, Fair Haven, Farmingdale, Hi-Nella, Lopatcong, Lumberton, Manasquan, Milltown, Morris Plains, Morristown, Ocean Gate, Oceanport, Old Bridge, Pemberton, Pennsauken, Pohatcong, Raritan Borough, Stockton, Sussex Borough, Vineland, West Cape May, Westhampton, Westville, and Woodlynne.
In each case, the Notice of Violation advises that the exclusionary gender options in the municipality’s marriage application form violates New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD). 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. Under the LAD, it is also 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, or gender expression.
“Marriage equality is not just the law. It is a fundamental right,” said Attorney General Platkin. “The marriage equality enforcement actions we are announcing today reflect our continued commitment to ensuring that municipal governments do not discriminate against couples seeking marriage licenses on the basis of their gender, gender identity, or gender expression.”
“The law in New Jersey is crystal clear: No one can be denied the fundamental right to marry based on their gender identity,” said DCR Director Sundeep Iyer. “Municipalities have an obligation to ensure that they are not excluding LGBTQIA+ individuals from applying for marriage licenses. Today’s enforcement actions underscore our ongoing commitment to ensuring that marriage equality remains a reality for our State’s LGBTQIA+ residents.”
The Notices of Violation announced today are the latest enforcement actions taken as part of DCR’s Marriage Equality Enforcement Initiative, which was launched in October 2022. The Marriage Equality Enforcement Initiative seeks to ensure that municipal governments across New Jersey comply with the LAD by providing gender-inclusive and non-discriminatory marriage licensing applications and instructions to the general public.
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., and Garden State Equality. The report found that the websites of certain municipalities violated the LAD by expressly limiting marriage licenses to “opposite-sex couples.” DCR’s investigation identified other discriminatory language employed by municipalities, including the exclusionary gender options identified in the Notices of Violation announced today.
Among other things, the Notices of Violation issued by DCR warn each municipality that the marriage license application form published on their websites violates the LAD, and that such violations could result in financial penalties of up to $10,000.
The Notices of Violation also contain an offer of settlement. If the municipality does not contest the facts as set out by DCR, it can resolve the matter by entering into an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance agreement. That agreement requires, among other things, that the municipality:
- Update its websites to state that marriage licenses are available to qualifying couples of all gender compositions;
- Update its 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;
- Ensure that its website does not contain gender-restrictive language regarding who may obtain a marriage license, and that the services the municipality offers will be open to all persons on an equal basis without regard to sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or gender expression;
- Adopt a written policy prohibiting discrimination against persons using or seeking to use the municipality’s offerings and services;
- Provide LAD training on compliance with the written anti-discrimination policy to all municipal employees involved in drafting website language and in issuing licenses; and
- Remit to DCR a payment in lieu of penalty.
The Marriage Equality Enforcement Initiative will continue 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.
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 learn more, visit https://www.njoag.gov/about/divisions-and-offices/division-on-civil-rights-home/division-on-civil-rights-resources/.
To find out more information, visit www.njoag.gov/about/divisions-and-offices/division-on-civil-rights-home/ .