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10/25/2006

BREAKING: Gays have right to equality, but not to fully wed their Prince in Princeton or Shrew in Shrewsbury just yet

by Jeremy Hooper

Jerseyequal

The New Jersey Supreme Court has basically ruled in favor of same-sex marriage equality, though they have passed the ultimate decision onto the state legislature!

The majority opionion says "that under the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, 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" and that "the Legislature must either amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples or create a parallel statutory structure, which will provide for, on equal terms, the rights and benefits enjoyed and burdens and obligations borne by married couples" (similar to what was passed in Vermont in 1999). So basically, gay marriages or a form of unions with the same rights are on the Jersey horizon (you know, where the smog usually lives).

And unlike Massachusetts, gays from out-of-state should be able to legally do the deed (whatever the legislature decides to call it) in Jersey, whether or not their home state recognizes it as legal. So look out, Jersey Turnpike -- you, the road whose exits have been the butt of many tired jokes, are soon to be more populated by folks whose butts have been the subject of many "exit only" jokes. And we're not stopping until we get to...what exit is the reception hall again?

Now, it's a sure bet that the conservatives will be looking to have whatever form of marriage we're eventually granted somehow banned (even if Gov. Corzine has said he'll let the court's decision stand), so it's very important for us to not get complacent. There will be a Garden State Equality rally tonight in Montclair, where the topics of discussion will be (a) getting nothing less than full marriage equality in the legislature and then (b) protecting those rights from a ban. Because if there is anything worse than never tasting the wedding cake, it's proffering a down payment for the delicious delectable and then having the kibosh put on your planned soiree. Just wrong, that confectionary-cancelling scenario!

But let's not think of the negative for now. For now, let's hold on to what we perceive to be a pretty great victory. Let's look forward and push the legislature for MARRIAGE, not a "separate but equal" substitute.

Holy mother of Hoboken -- this writer could actually become a groom in the very near future!

A-68-05 Mark Lewis, et al. v. Gwendolyn L. Harris et al.(Mercer County & Statewide) [NJ Supreme Court]

CONCURRENCE (some form of unions): ALBIN, LaVECCHIA, WALLACE, RIVERA-SOTO
CONCURRENCE (because they wanted equality) & DISSENT (because they wanted FULL marriage equality): PORITZ, LONG, and ZAZZALI
DISSENT (because they consider gay couples "lesser than" and non-deserving of legal recognition): ABSOLUTELY NOBODY!

***Some folks are reporting that the courts ruled "against marriage," which is simply not true. They stopped short of saying the state must fully legalize marriage, but they DID NOT rule against it! In fact, the only dissent was from justices who felt the ruling didn't go far enough in fully legalizing equality!

**UPDATE:
Empire State Pride Agenda's statements on the ruling:

This is a wonderful day for same-sex couples and their families in New Jersey. Very soon they will have access to the protections and responsibilities that all loving, committed couples need to take care of each other. We celebrate this decision with our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) neighbors in New Jersey and look forward to the day when New York will take the same stand against discrimination and support marriage equality for our families.”

“We also thank the seven couples in New Jersey who allowed their private lives to be examined under the public microscope while the court considered their claim and we congratulate Lambda Legal and Garden State Equality for the tremendous job they did in winning this victory for our community.

***First religious right response, courtesy of Concerned Women For America's Jan LaRue:

"This is a textbook example of agenda-driven judges who are willing to twist their state laws and invade the province of the legislative branch in order to force same-sex 'marriage' on the people of New Jersey," LaRue said. “The court snubbed its nose at 28 separate statute sections that include a specific reference to either the term 'married woman' and a 'married man' or to the term 'husband and wife.' Because New Jersey has no residency requirement for marriage, if the legislature caves in to the court, it could open the door for lawsuits challenging every state’s marriage law."

****UPDATE 2: Assemblymen Wilfredo Caraballo, Brian Stack, and Reed Gusciora, have announced that they'll introduce full marriage equality-granting legislation when the Legislature resumes.

****UPDATE 3: HRC weighs in:

"Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples should have the same rights and obligations as heterosexual couples. This is, at its core, a pro-family, pro-equality decision. It is now in the hands of the legislature to do the right thing, and recognize that all New Jersey families should have the protections that only marriage provides.

“We congratulate and commend the work of Lambda Legal and the plaintiff couples who had the courage and resolve to bring this case forward.

“This decision recognizes that New Jersey’s constitution protects all families. The legislature should not go down the path of separate but equal, but rather should embrace marriage equality. We commend Garden State Equality and will work with them and other allies to make this a reality.

“The New Jersey decision only involves the protection and benefits of civil marriage – not religious ceremonies. This case does not affect religious institutions’ freedom to decide if they want to honor and recognize same-sex unions.

“Although this case is a major step forward in ending discrimination, a Federal law, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, denies same-sex couples over 1000 protections, and puts these couples at risk that they will not be recognized as families when they cross state lines.

“Our great country has a tradition of expanding legal protections, as was done for voting rights and other civil rights protections. Combating discrimination of all kinds is a fundamental American value. The Human Rights Campaign applauds this decision.

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