Courts have long recognized the legitimacy of non-traditional and unique family situations. When a child is born out of wedlock, courts have extended the rights and privileges of a child-parent relationship in spite of the lack of a formal marriage. In In the Matter of the Estate of Castellano, the court decided whether a child born out of wedlock could be considered a child of the man his mother was married to at the time of his birth to exclude him from inheriting from his biological father. This somewhat unorthodox case offers a variation on a common issue.
One of the most polarizing issues in our country today is the status of gay rights. In New Jersey, the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender people are similar to those of heterosexual orientation, with the exclusion of the right to marriage. New Jersey, along with eight other states, offers civil unions for same-sex couples. A civil union provides couples with the legal benefits and protections of a marriage in New Jersey, including rights to family leave benefits, regarding emergency medical care, relating to joint ownership of property, relating to insurance, health and pension benefits, relating to state public assistance benefits and a privileges not to testify against a civil union partner in court proceedings.
The rights of gay and lesbian couples in civil unions are very different from those in heterosexual marriages in significant ways. First, a civil union is not the same type of legal arrangement as a marriage. It offers more rights than a domestic partnership, but less then those of marriage. For example, New Jersey's Domestic Partnership Act does not require employers to allow those in domestic partnerships to take family leave to care for an ill partner, whereas civil unions do afford this protection. A marriage allows for both state and federal benefits, whereas civil unions only provide for state benefits. Social security and veteran benefits are just some of the federal benefits not permitted by civil unions.