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Seven Gay Couples and NJ Advocacy Group File Lawsuit Demanding Marriage Equality

Lambda Legal today filed a lawsuit seeking marriage equality on behalf of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, and seven same-sex couples and their children harmed from the unequal civil union system, the Star-Ledger reports:

Goldstein Their main argument is that the state Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that same sex couples should be guaranteed the same rights as heterosexual married couples, but in a 4-3 vote left it up to the Legislature how to achieve that. The minority in that decision said the state needed to allow marriage for same-sex couples.

The Legislature chose civil unions instead, which come with the exact same legal rights.

But plaintiffs said the legal rights are only equal only in theory. They offered stories about trying to visit their partners in hospitals or make medical decisions for them, but being initially denied by staff who did not understand what a civil union was.

The case combines both state and federal claims, according to Lambda Legal. It argues that the civil union law violates both the New Jersey Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution.

Said Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director, in a press release: "The constitutional guarantee of equality under the law does not stop midway through the Lincoln Tunnel. Our clients have been kept from each other during medical crises, denied health insurance, and even discriminated against in funeral homes because their civil unions relegate them to second-class status. New Jersey’s same-sex couples have been stuck in a limbo caused by the confusion and indignity of living with an inferior status."

Added Steven Goldstein (pictured), Chair and CEO of Garden State Equality: "By now, everybody in New Jersey knows that civil unions don’t work. Since civil unions became law in New Jersey, Garden State Equality has received reports from multitudes of civil union couples who have told us their employers refuse to provide the equal rights and benefits the civil union law mandates. It’s time for the courts to fix this mess and give full marriage equality to New Jersey’s same-sex couples and their children."

Here is Lambda Legal's website on the lawsuit.

Watch a video Garden State Equality released of John and Danny, two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, AFTER THE JUMP...

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  1. has the make up of the court changed since the 2006 decision?

    Posted by: daftpunkydavid | Jun 29, 2011 12:26:07 PM

  2. @Daftpunkydavid: I know at least one has...Deborah Poritz, who was in the dissent (i.e. wanted the term "marriage" to apply), retired shortly thereafter. I assume her replacement was put in place by Corzine. I seem to recall Christie having another appointee too?

    Posted by: Bruno | Jun 29, 2011 12:28:06 PM

  3. Guys, what's the difference between Civil Union and Marriage legally? I'm trying to write some blogs and articles about those differences so that people can see what you are asking for.

    I thought Civil Unions had all the same protections and the idea for "marriage" was more of a sociological movement to show that gay families are families in the traditional sense.

    I think if people could see the difference in legal terms they pay tip in favor of "pro"

    Posted by: Rin | Jun 29, 2011 12:36:15 PM

  4. Here is a link that will help:

    The big difference is there are no federal benefits with civil unions. There 1,138 federal benefits that come specifically with the word 'marriage' - that is how the laws are written.

    There is also no inter-state reciprocity with civil unions.

    Posted by: MikeBoston | Jun 29, 2011 12:42:54 PM

  5. So why did they wait a year to file this after the Supreme Court told them to start again in the Superior Court? They need this to get back up there as soon as possible before Christie starts replacing the judges, and yet they wasted a whole year

    Posted by: Tyler | Jun 29, 2011 12:47:45 PM

  6. @Tyler: They attempted to file the case directly with NJSC but in a split decision the case was rejected as there was no case record. As for why it took nearly a year, who knows.

    @Daftpunkydavid: the make-up of the court has indeed changed, but as the original ruling was 7-0 any addition to the court would be hard pressed to reverse a unanimous decision from 2006, assuming said justice subscribed to the conservative mantra of stare decisis.

    The beauty of this case is that a government created commission has found civil unions to be inadequate and when the legislature was given the chance it decided not to address the inadequacies. In addition, you even had a Republican State Senator in the hearing say the problem was the word 'civil union' and it needed to be called something else, just not marriage.

    Posted by: searunner | Jun 29, 2011 1:12:24 PM

  7. New Hampshire
    New York.

    Now it's time for NEW JERSEY!!!!!!!

    Posted by: SteveC | Jun 29, 2011 1:39:17 PM

  8. Rin, if you take a look at Lambda's website about the case you will see some of the problems with civil unions. Even if people are in civil unions, hospital staff, employers and others don't recognize them and don't give equal treatment. Most people have no idea what a civil union is, but everyone knows what it means when you say "we're married."

    Posted by: Q | Jun 29, 2011 3:48:52 PM

  9. "Guys, what's the difference between Civil Union and Marriage legally?"

    @Rin: Since neither CUs or civil marriage of gay couples are recognized at the federal level, the differences may seem subtle, but they are important. There have been instances (which you can find on Lambda's or Freedom to Marry's websites) within states where rights have been denied because CUs are seen as not-marriage.

    But it's also important in terms of DOMA. If DOMA is overturned, gay couples who are married should have their marriages federally recognized because married couples cannot be treated differently. Because CUs are clearly not marriage, who knows how the end of DOMA would effect those couples.

    Furthermore, there is no rational reason to have 2 separate (and inherently unequal) institutions for the same thing, with the same rights and responsibilities, other than to establish 2 classes of citizenship. So, yes, there's a symbolic measure of respect involved, but there's also a legal irrationality behind calling the marriages of gay couples something different. None of the justifications hold up under scrutiny.

    Posted by: Ernie | Jun 29, 2011 4:46:40 PM

  10. But that corpulent bigot Christie will never approve it!

    Posted by: jaragon | Jun 29, 2011 5:44:42 PM

  11. @Mike, @Q, @Ernie,

    thanks. I need a lot more facts for blogging.

    I pushed for gay marriage in my state because it was on the ballot. I always thought Civil Unions and Marriage had the same legal protections, but in my opinion marriage "sounded nicer".

    Posted by: Rin | Jun 29, 2011 8:06:28 PM

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