HRC Blog

New Jersey Supreme Court Declines to Hear Marriage Equality Case

Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided, by a 3-3 split, not to take up the question of whether, in offering civil unions instead of marriage, the New Jersey Legislature has failed to comply with the Court’s 2006 decision in Lewis v. Harris. In that case, the Court held that providing same-sex couples with lesser rights than different-sex couples violated the New Jersey Constitution, but left it to the state legislature to determine how to remedy that inequality. The legislature chose to pass a civil unions law in late 2006, including a provision creating a Civil Union Review Commission to determine whether civil unions in fact provided equal benefits to same-sex couples. In 2008, the Commission issued its report documenting that civil unions fell short of treating same- and different-sex couples equally, as the Court had mandated. In March, Lambda Legal filed a motion with the Court asking it to revisit the question of marriage equality for same-sex couples, given the conclusions of the Commission and the clear evidence that civil unions do not treat same-sex couples equally. In ruling on that motion today, the split Court (which currently has one vacancy) declined to take the case up again, instead concluding that the question of marriage equality could not be decided without an “appropriate trial-like record” and permitting the plaintiffs to start their lawsuit anew in the trial court, meaning the issue could take years before it reaches the state’s Supreme Court again. Lambda Legal is currently assessing its next steps in the case. Sadly, in today’s decision the Court turned a blind eye both to its own conclusion, that New Jersey’s constitutional guarantee of equality applies fully to same-sex couples, and to what even a commission appointed by the state legislature has concluded, that civil unions do not in fact treat those couples equally. We applaud the plaintiffs for their continued commitment to fight for real equality in New Jersey and Lambda Legal for their tireless efforts on behalf of those couples and thousands more in the Garden State.

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