Editor's note: Middlesex County NOW-NJ activist Skip
Drumm can be seen holding up an "Equal Marriage" round just
above the "T" in TCNJ.
Same-sex, same rights
N.J. gays still can't wed
JONATHAN TAMARI, GANNETT, Home News Tribune Online 10/26/06
Committed gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights as
married couples, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled
yesterday, but by a 4-3 majority the court stopped short of
ordering the New Jersey Legislature to allow same-sex marriage.
The Associated Press
People rally in front of the Richard
J. Hughes Justice Complex yesterday in Trenton as
they wait for the New Jersey Supreme Court to
release its highly anticipated decision.
Instead, the majority
said marriage is not a "fundamental right" and ruled that
lawmakers should decide how to ensure equal protection: By
allowing gay marriage, or by creating a separate system that
provides all of the same rights, but with a different name.
"Although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex
marriage exists in this state, the unequal dispensation of
rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer
be tolerated under our state constitution," Associate Justice
Barry T. Albin wrote for the majority.
He later added, "The name to be given to the statutory scheme
that provides full rights and benefits to same sex couples,
whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the
Associate Justices Jaynee LaVecchia, John Wallace Jr. and
Roberto Rivera-Soto joined in Albin's opinion.
Outgoing Chief Justice Deborah Portiz, incoming Chief Justice
James Zazzali and Associate Justice Virginia Long dissented,
arguing that to achieve equality, the state must allow gay
The majority ruling moves the controversial gay marriage
question back to the Legislature. The court gave lawmakers
180 days to act. Three Democratic lawmakers immediately
announced a proposal to legalize gay marriage, but others said
marriage should only be allowed for one man and one woman.
The court's decision is similar to one issued in Vermont in 1999
that eventually led to that state's legislature approving civil
unions that offered gay couples all of the same rights as
married heterosexual couples. Connecticut recently
approved a similar law. The decision leaves Massachusetts
as the only state in the nation to allow gay marriage.
The New Jersey ruling drew mixed reactions from both sides of
The seven gay and lesbian couples who sued for the right to wed
were encouraged by the promise of equal rights but said they
would settle for nothing less than marriage.
"People know if you call something different it's not the same.
If it's not the same, it's not equal," said Cindy Meneghin, of
The dissenting justices agreed.
"Labels set people apart as surely as physical separation on a
bus or in school facilities. Labels are used to perpetuate
prejudice about differences that, in this case, are embedded in
the law," Poritz wrote.
Social conservatives argued that the justices went too far in
ordering their changes and urged lawmakers to leave marriage to
heterosexual couples only.
"The Supreme Court is invoking the Legislature to go further
than it already has. We believe that the rights granted
under civil unions are enough for homosexual couples," said Len
Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council.
New Jersey already has a domestic partnership law that provides
gay and lesbian couples some, but not all, of the benefits of
marriage. Several plaintiffs complained Wednesday that
they have been stymied while dealing with doctors and insurance
companies despite their domestic partnerships.
The ruling sets the stage for a political push by gay-rights
groups, who vowed to pressure lawmakers to expressly allow gay
Gov. Jon S. Corzine and the Democratic leaders of the Senate and
Assembly all said they would ensure equal rights, but none would
say whether that would come through marriage, civil unions or
Corzine has said he would oppose an amendment to bar gay
marriage but has also said marriage should be limited to man and
"The court ruled that same sex couples are entitled to equal
rights, and I look forward to the legislative process
implementing the court's decision," Corzine said Wednesday.
Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, and Assembly Speaker
Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden, also said they would not post
for a vote any amendment seeking to override the court ruling.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay-rights organization Garden
State Equality, pledged a political campaign to fight for
marriage rights. Invoking images of the African-American
civil rights movement, Goldstein likened the ruling to telling
gay couples they can move from the back of a bus to the middle,
but not the front.
The seven couples who have been the face of the lawsuit that
began in 2002 said they would have to continue a fight that they
thought would be resolved.
"I totally thought tomorrow we'd go out and get married," said
Marcye Nicholson-McFadden, of Aberdeen.
Meneghin, who said she first proposed to her partner Maureen
Kilian in an empty church 32 years ago, likened the wait for
yesterday's decision to "false labor."
The couples expressed optimism, however, that the Legislature
would legalize gay marriage.
"You learn patience. It's worth it and you never give up
the fight," Meneghin said.
Since July 2004, when New Jersey's domestic partnership law took
effect, 4,354 same-sex couples have registered as domestic
partners, along with 101 elderly opposite-sex couples, according
to state statistics. The ruling said there are more than
16,000 same-sex couples in committed relationships across the
Same-sex couples won the right to marry in Massachusetts through
a court case that culminated in 2003. Since then the top
state courts in New York and Washington have ruled against
groups seeking same-sex marriage rights. Other cases are
pending in California, Connecticut, Iowa and Maryland.
Voters in 19 states have approved constitutional amendments
barring gay marriage, and 41 states have laws limiting marriage
to one man and one woman. Proposals to limit marriage are
up for a vote in eight other states next month.
California, Maine, Hawaii and the District of Columbia have
domestic partnership laws that provide gay couples some marriage
rights, but fall short of civil unions.
The ruling came down on Poritz's last day on the high court.
Poritz reaches the state's mandatory retirement age today.
The decision was also handed down two days after Zazzali was
confirmed as the new chief justice. Conservative groups
had called on the Legislature to wait for the gay marriage
decision before voting on Zazzali's nomination.