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NJ: Supreme Court declines marriage equality case challenging civil unions

The short update is that the six couples challenging the Garden State’s civil union law will need to file a case in Superior Court, but this ruling was a disappointment.

In a split decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court has declined to hear a case from six same-sex couples seeking the right to marry, saying the case needs to wind its way through the lower courts first.

“This matter cannot be decided without the development of an appropriate trial-like record,” wrote Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, who added that “We reach no conclusion on the merits of the plaintiffs’ allegations regarding the constitutionality of the Civil Union Act.”

The couples filed the case in the aftermath of the failure of same-sex legislation in the state Senate, arguing that the state’s 2006 civil union law had failed to grant them the full rights and benefits of heterosexual married couples that the court mandated the Legislature provide them with four years ago.

Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director, Hayley Gorenberg, who is handling this case, issued the following statement:

“We are terribly disappointed about today’s ruling. Our plaintiffs and the New Jersey legislature’s own Civil Union Review Commission documented the rampant discrimination same-sex couples face as a consequence of civil union status, and this ruling now relegates our plaintiffs to second-class citizenship for even longer.

“The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of equality in 2006, and this ruling is a saddening setback for our plaintiffs and their families, who have been denied the rights and responsibilities of marriage for years, and now continue to be denied.

“Separating out one group and relegating the people in it to a lesser status, in this case to civil unions in New Jersey, invites discrimination from all quarters-the government, businesses, schools, medical providers, individuals.

“It is heartbreaking that these families must wait longer for equality. As the son of one of our plaintiff couples pointed out when we launched our new motion, he has waited for half his life for his family to be treated equally and it still hasn’t happened. He is now almost college-aged.

“We are now assessing possible next steps in Superior Court.”

The reaction from Garden State Equality’s Steven Goldstein:

“Because of the legislature’s inability to act and the Supreme Court’s decision today, New Jersey continues in a caste system where an entire people are thrown aside into a profoundly inferior status, spit on, dumped on, utterly degraded, by hospitals and employers who mock the term “civil union.” Children will continue to live with an imprimatur of inferiority, psychologically devastated because they can’t marry or because their same-sex parents cannot marry. Same-sex couples will continue to be denied the consistent right to visit one another in the hospital, to make medical decisions for one another, and to receive equal health benefits from employers, all because of the deprivation of the equality and dignity that uniquely comes with the word ‘marriage.’

“We at Garden State Equality will never give up – not until our dying breath. Since our founding in 2004, New Jersey has enacted 211 laws at the state, county and local levels advancing the civil rights of LGBT community, a record matched in few other places in the world. It’s because we and our allies, including so many predominantly straight organizations across New Jersey, never gave up and never gave in. And we never will give up or give in, so help us God.

“Cesar Chavez said it best. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the people who feel pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.

“We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding