[JURIST] The New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] on Monday declined to hear a case [order, PDF] challenging the constitutionality of New Jersey’s civil unions law, holding that it must first be heard in the lower courts. The lawsuit was filed [JURIST report] in March, arguing that the Civil Unions Law [text, PDF] does not adhere to the 2006 ruling in Lewis v. Harris [decision; Lambda Legal backgrounder], which said that same-sex couples should have “full rights and benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.” The plaintiffs claim that they face discrimination as couples in civil unions compared to opposite-sex married couples. The court divided evenly 3-3 on whether the hear the case, falling short of the four-justice majority required to hear it. The court cited a lack of a trial record in the decision, which it said was necessary to assess the case on its merits. The three dissenting justices argued that the court should not have dismissed the case without a hearing because if the plaintiffs’ allegations of discrimination are true they should not face unnecessary delay. Lambda Legal [advocacy website], an organization representing one of the plaintiffs, expressed disappointment with the ruling [press release], stating:
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. … 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.
The case was dismissed without prejudice, and is expected to be brought in the New Jersey Superior Court [offiicial website].
The New Jersey couples filed the lawsuit seeking to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] in the Supreme Court claiming that they “and other committed lesbian gay partners in New Jersey live in second-class circumstances, relegated to demonstrably inferior, state-created status of civil unions.” They argued that same-sex couples lack workplace benefits and protections, face unequal treatment and lack of recognition in public accommodations and civic life, and that their children are “prejudiced by the unequal and inferior legal and social status” of civil unions. New Jersey has recognized same-sex civil unions [JURIST report] since 2006. In January, the New Jersey Senate voted 20-14 to defeat a bill [JURIST report] that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in DC, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts [JURIST reports].