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Gay Marriage Case Declined by New Jersey Supreme Court

In a 3-3 decision the New Jersey Supreme Court has declined a case seeking the legalization of same-sex marriage filed by Lambda Legal on behalf of six same-sex couples and the surviving partner of a seventh. The case was filed in March following the rejection, in January, of a marriage equality bill by the state senate:

Rabner "The couples filed the case in the aftermath of the failure of same-sex legislation in the state Senate, arguing that the state’s 2006 civil union law had failed to grant them the full rights and benefits of heterosexual married couples that the court mandated the Legislature provide them with four years ago. Since the Legislature failed to pass same-sex marriage, the couples wanted the court to intervene. They will now have to file a new complaint in Superior Court, which will then have to climb the rungs to reach the state Supreme Court. The decision was 3-3, with Rabner, Robert Rivera-Soto and Helen Hoens ruling to deny the couples’ motion. Three justices dissented: Virginia Long, Jaynee LaVecchia and Barry Albin."

Wrote Chief Justice Stuart Rabner: "This matter cannot be decided without the development of an appropriate trial-like record...We reach no conclusion on the merits of the plaintiffs’ allegations regarding the constitutionality of the Civil Union Act."

Gorenberg Expressing disappointment, Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director, Hayley Gorenberg said the group is looking at next steps:

"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. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of equality in 2006, and this ruling is a saddening setback for our plaintiffs and their families, who have been denied the rights and responsibilities of marriage for years, and now continue to be denied. 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. It is heartbreaking that these families must wait longer for equality. As the son of one of our plaintiff couples pointed out when we launched our new motion, he has waited for half his life for his family to be treated equally and it still hasn't happened. He is now almost college-aged. We are now assessing possible next steps in Superior Court."

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  1. One step forward, 10 steps back.

    Posted by: Will | Jul 26, 2010 12:57:03 PM

  2. pathetic

    Posted by: anthony | Jul 26, 2010 1:04:40 PM

  3. Why does NJ have an even number of Justices? Do most cases end up split 3-3? Must not get a lot accomplished....

    Posted by: CJ | Jul 26, 2010 1:29:17 PM

  4. There is one vacancy on the court. This is entirely predictable and was a bad move on the part of Lambda Legal. You don't try to conduct trials on the supreme court level.

    Posted by: anon | Jul 26, 2010 1:46:46 PM

  5. Mark another notch in the belt of Chris Christie, New Jersey's reactionary conservative governor. The reason there's a vacancy is because Christie declined to renominate one of the Supreme Court judges in the "4" of the original 4-3 decision, and the reason the marriage bill went down in the state senate, making the court case necessary in the first place, is because Christie enthusiastically whipped votes against it.

    He made nice cooing noises during the campaign about being a social moderate, but that was clearly all for show. Hopefully this is an unfriendly reminder to disaffected activists about what happens when the tea party set gets their hands on the levers of power.

    Posted by: jersey | Jul 26, 2010 2:15:27 PM

  6. Ah, it was under Corzine that the bill for marriage equality did not pass. The activists also did not wait for the court to be up to 7 again.

    Posted by: anon | Jul 26, 2010 3:00:06 PM

  7. Actually, my post is wrong -- the judge was one of the 4 who decided that civil unions were an acceptable option for the legislature. That said, we are still in this position only because Christie helped convince Republican senators who had previously committed to vote yes to change their minds. And yes, anon, also because of Corzine's willingness to let the issue rest until after the election.

    Posted by: jersey | Jul 26, 2010 3:06:33 PM

  8. Read the article, not just the headlines...

    As someone who actually lives in NJ, I remind the outraged that the NJ Supreme Court needs...and stated that they actual adjudicated case on which to rule-on. The plaintiffs need to go to a lower court and actually have a trial (win-or-lose) that establishes "facts of law" that the Supreme Court can them rule-upon. They can't just step-in based on a complaint-raised, it has to go to trial first.

    Posted by: Ted B. | Jul 26, 2010 3:09:34 PM

  9. New Jersey's Supreme Court has seven seats, but one is vacant because Republican Governor Christie broke with decades of tradition and did not renominate Justice Wallace after his term on the Court expired. Its noteworthy that Wallace was the only African-American on the NJ high court. And Christie can't claim to be trying to achieve gender balance with his pick of Republican lawyer Anne Murray Patterson as three of the six justices are already women, though it would make New Jersey the fifth state to have had a female majority Supreme Court.

    Posted by: Craig | Jul 26, 2010 3:31:20 PM

  10. Great comment, Jersey, though I wish you hadn't felt the need to make any concessions to Anon in your latter post as the problem here was not Governor Corzine. Had the vote been taken prior to the election, if anything the Republican fence-sitters like the awful Jennifer Beck would have been more likely to oppose equality. The problem here was that, as you have aptly noted, Christie exerted pressure on members of the Republican caucus prior to his inauguration to oppose the marriage equality bill. And that's why anyone frustrated with this result today should direct their frustration and anger not at an ally like Governor Corzine and not, for the reasons Ted B. notes above, at members of the New Jersey Supreme Court (even if 2 of the three who voted against the Lambda position today are Republicans) but instead at Log Cabin Republicans. The main reason we have no prospects of equality in the near future in New Jersey is because Chris Christie is sitting in the Governor's Mansion. He and a long list of other so-called Republican "moderates" like Beck and Kean and others have power in part because of the backing of Log Cabin Republicans (and because of the apathy of too many otherwise decent progressives in our community last November). We get elected officials like Linda Lingle and Charles Djou and Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell when we don't confront the enemy within our own ranks, the LCR, and expose them for the unmitigated history of failure that their efforts over the course of several decades has produced.

    Posted by: Patric | Jul 26, 2010 3:47:54 PM

  11. Ted, there is a case. Lewis v Harris. The Court ruled on it and ordered the Legislature to give equality of rights to same sex couples within 180 days. The Assembly choose civil unions and this was an attempt by the original Lewis plaintiffs to show that the original court order in Lewis had not been fulfill and that the State of New Jersey itself in the place of an Assembly commissioned study shows civil unions do not convey the same rights, privileges and responsibilities that marriage does.

    Posted by: Craig | Jul 26, 2010 3:54:57 PM

  12. "......This was an attempt by the original Lewis plaintiffs to show that the original court order in Lewis had not been fulfill and that the State of New Jersey itself in the place of an Assembly commissioned study shows civil unions do not convey the same rights, privileges and responsibilities that marriage does."

    Yes I realize that...BUT since no lower court has ruled that the remedy by the Legislature (civil unions) does or doesn't "convey the same rights, privileges and responsibilities" there's no case for the NJ Supreme Court to review...yet. There needs to be a trial first to establish those "facts of law".

    Posted by: Ted B. | Jul 26, 2010 4:25:27 PM

  13. Thank you, Ted B., for giving us an informed opinion. All this decision means is that the plaintiffs need to file their claim in a lower court, right? And this was a foreseeable result of Lambda Legal choosing not to file in a trial court in the first place, correct? And it's in the best interest of the marriage equality proponents to have a fully developed record, anyway, isn't it? So Lambda Legal's bellyaching over the decision is a bit disingenuous, right?

    Posted by: Harris | Jul 26, 2010 4:42:23 PM

  14. it's not just LCR. plenty gay voters vote republican.

    we can be our own worst enemies.

    i still don't understand why corzine couldn't have written an executive order...

    Posted by: rick | Jul 27, 2010 4:06:58 AM

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