Victory in New Jersey

Posted on 25 Jan 2006 at 3:50pm
By Tammye Nash Senior Editor

State Supreme Court rules that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples violates Constitution; activists vow to get marriage statutes amended to include gays



The New Jersey Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that denying equal marriage rights to same-sex couples violates the state’s Constitution, and set a six-month time limit for the legislature to either amend current marriage statutes or establish a civil union-type arrangement that gives gay couples all the state rights and benefits of marriage.

The ruling was announced at 2 p.m., CST.

Steven Goldstein, chair of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, immediately issued a statement announcing that three state lawmakers were prepared to introduce marriage equality legislation.

Four of the seven justices signed on to the majority. The three other justices said same-sex couples should be included in the marriage statutes and not given a separate-but-equal system of rights.

Justice Barry T. Albin, writing for the majority, said, “Denying committed same-sex couples the financial and social benefits and privileges give to their married heterosexual counterparts bears no substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose.”

Albin wrote that “committed same-sex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes,” but that whether the “statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits” is called marriage, civil unions or something else “is a matter left to the democratic process.”

Justices Jaynee LaVecchia, Roberto A. Rivera-Soto and John E. Wallace Jr. signed the majority opinion.

Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz, who will step down from the court after turning 70 the court’s mandatory retirement age on Thursday, wrote a minority opinion concurring that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples violates the Constitution, but “dissents from the majority’s distinguishing those rights and benefits from the right to the title of marriage. She also dissents from the majority’s conclusion that there is no fundamental due process right to same-sex marriage encompassed within the concept of “‘liberty’” as expressed in the Constitution.

Justices Virginia Long and James R. Zazzali signed the minority opinion.

Goldstein agreed vehemently with the minority opinion, In a written statement released shortly before 3 p.m. CST, Goldstein said, “So help us God, New Jersey’s LGBT community and our millions of straight allies will settle for nothing less than 100 percent marriage equality.”

Goldstein said that “half-steps short of marriage like New Jersey’s domestic partnership law and also civil union laws don’t work in the real world. Hospitals and other employers have told domestic-partnered couples across New Jersey: We don’t care what the domestic partnership law says. You’re not married.

“That’s why it wouldn’t matter if the legislature added all the rights in the world to the current law without calling it marriage,” he continued. “Marriage is the only currency of commitment the real world universally understands and accepts.”

Goldstein said that Assemblyman Wilfredo Carabello, the Assembly’s speaker pro tem, would be joined by Assemblymen Brian Stack and Reed Gusciora in introducing marriage equality legislation.

“Over our dead bodies will we settle for less than 100 percent marriage equality. The people of New Jersey wouldn’t want us to,” Goldstein said, pointing to the 2006 Zogby-Garden State Equality Poll that found that New Jersey residents favor marriage equality by a 56-to39 percent margin.

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