[JURIST] The New Jersey Superior Court [official website] Friday ruled [press release] that a marriage equality lawsuit [complaint text, PDF; case materials] can continue, partially denying a motion to dismiss filed by the New Jersey Attorney General [official website]. Lambda Legal [advocacy websites] filed the lawsuit in June on behalf of Garden State Equality (GSE), New Jersey’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, and seven same-sex couples and their children who claim harm under the state civil union system. The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief [JURIST report] against the state civil union law as a contravention of both the Fourteenth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] and the New Jersey State Constitution. Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg dismissed the claims that the state law violates federal guarantees of due process and equal protection, but is allowing the the case to proceed with its claim that the civil union law is unconstitutional on state grounds, putting the controversial issue on track to eventually land in the New Jersey Supreme Court [official website]. Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director Hayley Gorenberg praised the judge’s decision:
We are delighted that the New Jersey Superior Court will allow this case to continue … By moving to dismiss, the government was trying to prevent us from showing exactly how the current classification system based on sexual orientation harms families. New Jersey’s exclusion interferes during medical crises, denies them health insurance, and leads to discrimination against them even in funeral homes. These families need marriage equality and should not have to live with a law that treats them as inferior.
Opponents of the lawsuit have argued that there should be a referendum asking New Jersey residents whether they support a constitutional amendment allowing gay marriage. The court has not yet set a date to hear the case.
Lamda Legal filed a similar suit last year [JURIST report], but the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case, holding that it must first be heard in the lower courts. In 2009, a Superior Court judge 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. In June when the suit was filed, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie [official website] reiterated that he will not sign a gay marriage bill into law [Bloomberg report]. The statement was in reaction to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) [official website] signing legislation [A8354-2011 materials] allowing same-sex couples to marry [JURIST report] in that state. The legislation made New York the seventh US jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriage, which 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].