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Lambda Legal to New Jersey Supreme Court: Civil Unions fail to provide equality

“The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered equality for same-sex couples, and the legislature has failed to meet that crystal-clear obligation.” –Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director, Lambda Legal

The moment we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived!  After the defeat of New Jersey’s marriage equality bill in January, Lambda Legal and Garden State Equality announced that the legislative defeat, while painful, set the perfect stage for a return to court.  Hold onto your hats, because here we go:

On March 18, 2010, Lambda Legal returned to the New Jersey Supreme Court to file a motion seeking marriage equality on behalf of the plaintiffs in the original Lewis v. Harris lawsuit.

“The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered equality for same-sex couples when it decided our marriage lawsuit in 2006, and the legislature has failed to meet that crystal-clear obligation,” said Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director Hayley Gorenberg. “Civil unions are a failed legislative experiment in providing equality-marriage equality is the only solution.”

Lambda Legal filed Lewis v. Harris in June 2002 on behalf of seven same-sex couples seeking the right to marry. The New Jersey Supreme Court issued its ruling on October 25, 2006, unanimously agreeing that it is unconstitutional to give same-sex couples lesser rights than different-sex couples, but leaving the remedy to reach equality up to the legislature.

In January 2007 the New Jersey Legislature hastily enacted a civil union law. In December 2008 the Civil Union Review Commission, appointed by the legislature, issued its report documenting how civil unions fall short of the court-mandated equality for same-sex couples.

“Unfortunately Cindy has had to go to the emergency room both before we had a civil union and after,” says plaintiff Maureen Kilian about her partner, Cindy Meneghin. “The trips were 12 years apart and health care providers were just as confused about our relationship and what their legal obligations were to respect it each time. Our civil union didn’t help. The fear and degradation were with us then and are still with us today.”

In January 2010, following a hard-fought campaign led by Garden State Equality, the New Jersey Senate voted on and failed to pass a marriage equality law.

“With our kids watching, we have to explain that we are in a civil union with each other and that we are both parents of our daughters, which would never happen if we could just say ‘we’re married,'” say plaintiffs Sarah and Suyin Lael. “Those few words that everybody knows so well make an enormous difference-a difference our civil union has not made.”

The case is Lewis v. Harris.

New Jersey is now the only state in the nation with civil unions.  Other states that had them previously, most notably Vermont and New Hampshire, found them to be inferior and so passed marriage equality laws.

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Laurel Ramseyer

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