Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit this week 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 case is called Garden State Equality v. Dow (PDF) and combines both state and federal claims. It argues that New Jersey’s civil union law violates both the New Jersey Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution.
Civil unions place same-sex couples and their children in an inferior status to different-sex couples and their children. Without full marriage equality, same-sex couples are denied workplace benefits and protections equal to those accorded to married people, and they are blocked from seeing their loved ones during medical emergencies. This exclusion deprives them of certainty in their legal rights and status, and often increases financial burdens.
In 2006 the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Lambda Legal’s historic case Lewis v. Harris that same-sex couples must be provided all the benefits and responsibilities of marriage. However, it allowed the New Jersey Legislature to decide how to provide those benefits and responsibilities. The Legislature chose Civil Unions and passed the Civil Union Act in December 2006.
The civil union law mandated the creation of the Civil Union Review Commission which in December 2008 issued its unanimous report documenting how civil unions fall short of providing the court-mandated equality for same-sex couples. In January 2010 the New Jersey Senate voted on but failed to pass a marriage equality bill. In light of the Legislature’s failure to provide equal rights and protections to same-sex couples, Lambda Legal filed a motion asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to intercede and order marriage to secure compliance with its original mandate of equality for the Lewis v. Harris plaintiffs. But in July 2010, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied the motion, requiring further proceedings to develop a record in Superior Court. The present case will do just that.