July 1, 2013
Last week, Lambda Legal announced a plan to file a motion for summary judgment in the New Jersey Superior Court on behalf of Garden State Equality, a New Jersey LGBT rights organization, and seven same-sex couples in an outstanding case that argues the state’s regime of civil unions but not marriage equality constitutes an unequal and unconstitutional abridgment of LGBT New Jerseyans’ rights. From Lambda Legal’s press release:
“The demise of DOMA Section 3 means that New Jersey’s marriage discrimination is all that bars same-sex couples and their families from the full range of federal rights, benefits, and protections. With this new legal landscape, New Jersey’s same-sex couples and their children need swift action,” said Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director.
“In Lambda Legal’s original New Jersey marriage case, Lewis v. Harris, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that it is unconstitutional to give same-sex couples lesser rights than different-sex couples. In 2013, after the defeat of DOMA, there is nothing left to debate – couples in civil unions are not being treated equally under the law.”
If the motion for summary judgment is approved, the case could be decided without any need for a trial or for further oral arguments.
As ThinkProgress notes, the New Jersey Supreme Court held in 2006 in a case called Lewis v. Harris that “the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our state constitution.” In that decision, the court ordered the state legislature to remedy the situation within 180 days. A few months later, the legislature passed a civil unions laws and also established the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission, which was tasked with evaluating civil unions to determine whether they provided the same rights and protections as marriages.
Unsurprisingly, the Commission found civil unions inadequate, writing that “the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children”:
In a number of cases, the negative effect of the Civil Union Act on the physical and mental health of same-sex couples and their children is striking, largely because a number of employers and hospitals do not recognize the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples.
Early last year, the New Jersey legislature approved a marriage equality bill, which Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed, expressing a desire for a popular referendum on equal marriage rights in the state. Democrats in the legislature have committed to overriding Christie’s veto during the current legislature: they have until the end of the current session in January 2014 to assemble 2/3 votes in both chambers.
This post has been updated and corrected. A previous version linked to an out-dated press release and intimated that Lambda Legal had filed a new lawsuit. The motion for summary judgment, expected later this week, is part of an outstanding lawsuit that Lambda Legal filed a few years ago. Many thanks to those in the comments and Kathleen for pointing this out.