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March 08, 2023

13 South Jersey towns lack required nonbinary option on marriage applications

The Attorney General's Office cited the municipalities for violating the state's anti-discrimination law

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South Jersey Marriage Licenses Sandy Millar/Unsplash

Thirteen South Jersey towns fail to include a third gender option on their marriage license applications – a violation of New Jersey law, Attorney General Matthew Platkin says. If they do not amend their forms, they could face fines of up to $10,000.

Thirteen South Jersey towns were cited Wednesday for using marriage license applications that only allow people to identify themselves as male or female – a violation of state law. 

In doing so, the municipalities exclude nonbinary and gender non-conforming people from applying for marriage licenses without misgendering themselves under oath, state officials said. 

They issued citations to 28 New Jersey municipalities, including Delran, Lumberton, Pemberton and Westhampton in Burlington County; Audubon, Hi-Nella, Pennsauken and Woodlynne in Camden County; West Cape May in Cape May County; Commercial and Vineland in Cumberland County; Westville in Gloucester County; and Carney's Point in Salem County. 

The towns' marriage license applications are not in line with the Department of Health's marriage license form, which has included a third option for nonbinary people since 2019. The Attorney General's Office warned each of the towns that the language in their marriage license forms violate state law, which could result in fines of up to $10,000. 

The towns were offered settlements that would require them to update their websites in accordance with the law and to include links to the Department of Health's marriage application. They would be required to ensure that their websites are free from gender-restrictive language and to adopt a written anti-discrimination policy. Municipal employees would be required to take anti-discrimination training.

"Marriage quality is not just the law. It is a fundamental human right," Attorney General Matthew Platkin said. "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." 

Using language that excludes nonbinary, transgender or other gender non-conforming people on marriage applications  is a violation of the state's Law Against Discrimination, which prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of real or perceived sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and gender expression. 

The law also bars institutions from posting any communication or notice stating that their services are unavailable to people based on their gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation. 

"The law in New Jersey is crystal clear: No one can be denied the fundamental right to marry based on their gender identity," said Sundeep Iyer, director of the Division of Civil Rights. "Municipal governments 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 language allegedly used by these municipalities was first flagged in a report published by the Latino Action Network Foundation in July. The report found that the websites of some municipal governments violated state law by expressly limiting marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples. 

The citations are the latest effort by state officials to ensure local governments are complying with the state's anti-discrimination law. 

In October, the Division of Civil Rights issued citations to Estell Manor, Fairview, Hanover, Linden and South Toms River for limiting licenses to opposite-sex couples and using language that excludes nonbinary people.