[JURIST] Gay rights groups Lambda Legal and Garden State Equality [advocacy websites] filed a lawsuit [complaint text, PDF; case materials] on Wednesday to force the state of New Jersey to recognize and legalize same-sex marriage as opposed to its current Civil Unions Law [text, PDF]. The suit was filed in the Mercer County Superior Court of New Jersey on behalf of eight same-sex couples [press release] who have had civil unions and are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief due to continued discrimination.
Today, New Jersey shunts lesbian and gay couples into the novel and inferior status of “civil unions,” while reserving civil marriage only for heterosexual couples. As the Plaintiff’s experience shows, the relegation of lesbian and gay couples to civil unions, and their exclusion from civil marriage, and thereby from the legal status of “marriage” and “spouse,” violates the guarantee of equal protection under Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution of 1947. Specifically, the separate and inherently unequal statutory scheme singles out lesbian and gay men for inferior treatment on the basis of their sexual orientation and sex, and also has a profoundly stigmatizing effect on them, their children, and on other lesbian and gay men New Jerseyans. As the Supreme Court of New Jersey made clear, the equal protection guarantee forbids “the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners.” This exclusion also violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Lamda Legal filed a similar suit last year [JURIST report], but the New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] declined to hear the case, holding that it must first be heard in the lower courts. In 2009, a superior court judged allowed a divorce to proceed between a same-sex couple [JURIST report], but cautioned that this would not extend to legalizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey through the courts.
Earlier this week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie [official website] reiterated that he will not sign a gay marriage bill into law [Bloomberg report]. Christie was questioned on his reaction to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) [official website] signing legislation [A8354-2011 materials] allowing same-sex couples to marry [JURIST report]. With the legislation, New York becomes the seventh US jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is also legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia [JURIST reports]. Civil unions or domestic partnerships are currently legal in Maine, Illinois, Delaware, Hawaii, California, Wisconsin, Nevada, Oregon and Washington and await ratification in Rhode Island [JURIST reports].