Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New Jersey Court Rejects Same-Sex Marriage Rights

The New Jersey Supreme Court today issued a long-awaited opinion in the case of seven gay and lesbian couples who had sued for the right to marry under the state constitution.

The court rejected the notion that the New Jersey Constitution demands equal marriage rights for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. As summarized in the court's syllabus of the opinion:

4. Times and attitudes have changed. There has been a developing understanding that discrimination against gays and lesbians is no longer acceptable in this State. On the federal level, the United States Supreme Court has struck down laws that have unconstitutionally targeted gays and lesbians for disparate treatment. Although plaintiffs rely on the federal cases to support the argument that they have a fundamental right to marry under our State Constitution, those cases fall far short of establishing a fundamental right to same-sex marriage "deeply rooted in the traditions, history, and conscience of the people of this State." Despite the rich diversity of this State, the tolerance and goodness of its people, and the many recent advances made by gays and lesbians toward achieving social acceptance and equality under the law, the Court cannot find that the right to same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under our constitution. (pp. 28-33)
The court did defer to the state legislature, saying it is up to elected lawmakers to create an institution other than marriage that treats same-sex couples equally. (It was probably looking to the Vermont and Connecticut examples, where same-sex couples are able to obtain civil unions as defined by legislation, not judicial opinion.)

More details will no doubt emerge as legal scholars and pundits have had a chance to read the whole opinion.

2 comments:

James E. Martin said...

I wouldnt read it quite that way...

I think this is a huge step forward for gay rights, but its not the end.

Rick Sincere said...

The language is unambiguous:

"the Court cannot find that the right to same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under our constitution"

The New Jersey Supreme Court has said it is up to the legislature to define marriage rights. The irony is that if Ballot Question #1 passes in Virginia on November 7, the Virginia General Assembly will not have the same authority as the New Jersey legislature to define marriage -- the proposed amendment takes that authority out of the hands of the General Assembly.