New Jersey High Court: Gay & Lesbian Couples Entitled to Equal Rights and Benefits

Court stops shorts of requiring marriage, leaves to legislature to decide on marriage or another institution

The Supreme Court of New Jersey today ruled unanimously that the state Constitution requires that all of the rights and benefits of marriage be available to same-sex couples, but in a 4–3 ruling, allows the legislature to decide whether to grant same-sex couples equal access to civil marriage or whether to create a separate institution such as civil unions. The Court gave the legislature 180 days to act. People For the American Way Foundation had filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the couples seeking to end marriage discrimination in the state.

“Today’s ruling is an extremely important positive step toward full equality in New Jersey and the protection of all families,” said PFAWF President Ralph G. Neas. “All seven justices recognized that denying the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples violates the state Constitution. It is disappointing that the Court’s strong stand against discrimination stopped short of the clearest remedy to that discrimination: marriage.”

Neas noted that a recent Zogby-Garden State Equality poll showed that a majority of New Jersey voters support marriage equality for same-sex couples by a margin of 56–39%.

“The people of New Jersey are ready to stop discriminating against committed same-sex couples who are prepared to accept the responsibilities of marriage,” said Neas. “Legislators should recognize that our nation has decided that ‘separate but equal’ is no solution to discrimination. The legislature should catch up with the people, seize the opportunity presented by the Court and allow same sex couples to marry.”

Neas, warning that anti-gay forces are likely to respond to the ruling with false and inflammatory rhetoric, noted that the ruling in no way compromises religious liberty in New Jersey or elsewhere. “No church or congregation will ever be forced to bless any marriage or civil union. Discrimination is being dismantled. But religious liberty is secure.”

Neas congratulated Lambda Legal for its work on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case.

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