New Jersey Court Rules That Marriage Statutes Protect Same-Sex Couples

Supporters Hear Ruling That Backs Marriage Statutes Rights for Same-Sex Couples

The New Jersey Appellate Court ruled today that:

“Denying committed same-sex couples the financial and social benefits and privileges given to their married heterosexual counterparts bears no substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose.  The Court holds that under the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, committed same-sex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes.  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 democratic process.”

Andrew Sullivan commented:

“In other words: call it a civil union or a civil partnership if you will.  And the legislature needs to come up with some kind of compromise wording.  But the state constitution unequivocally requires equal treatment under the law.  So this is not a state imposition of civil marriage.  It is a state imposition of civil unions.  I think this is a perfectly sane compromise.  It’s what the Brits have done.  Leave the m-word to the churches; but let the state grant equal protection under the law.  The Christianists can no longer claim that we are redefining civil marriage in New Jersey.  We’re just being fair to gay couples who, as citizens, have every right to be treated equally under the law.

My own position, of course, is that full civil marriage rights, with the m-word, is the only just solution.  But in a democracy, there is not a majority for that yet.  The court, by the way, is not being activist.  It had no logical option but to apply its equal protection clause to everybody.  Gay people are citizens, entitled to the same civil treatment by the government as anyone else.  But the court has now left it to the legislature to decide on the name.

Checks and balances; state’s rights; and fostering of both equality and responsibility.  DOMA means it won’t apply to any other state.  Massachusetts has already shown that civil marriage can be kept within one’s state’s borders.  The conservative soul just revived a little.  May it grow stronger.”

On the other hand, John Cloud, writing for Time Magazine, was struck by the possible implications of the Court’s hestitation to deal with the question of what to call gay marriages.  He reminds us of the implications of the real meaning of “separate but equal” in America’s history, and how it might well apply in the case of this Court’s ruling:

“While the New Jersey court pats itself on the back for advancing the civil rights of gays and lesbians, let’s pause for a moment to note what gays and lesbians have not won: actual equality.  The Supreme Court of New Jersey has ruled in favor of gay marriage, sort of.  By a vote of 4 to 3, the court says the state must afford gay couples all the “rights and benefits” that straight couples have under the law.  But the majority punted on the question of what to call gay marriages.  If it doesn’t want to call them marriages, the legislature is free to come up with a term of its choosing for committed gay relationships.  In other words, the court is fine with a nomenclature under which some marriages would be separate—but equal.In a sentence that will seem silly—and unjust—in 20 years, the court says this explicitly: “We will not presume that a separate statutory scheme, which uses a title other than marriage, contravenes equal protection principles, so long as the rights and benefits of civil marriage are made equally available to same-sex couples.”  The Plessy court couldn’t have said it better: separate railway cars for blacks are fine, as long as they are just as nice as the ones for whites.  Don’t bother about that curtain between the black and white cars. “Marriages,” “civil unions,” “two guys shacking up with a lot of All-Clad cookware”—does the term really matter?”

Yes, it certainly does.

However, in a later statement, Sullivan doesn’t seem to appreciate the deeper concerns raised by John Cloud:

“I think the president is fine with the New Jersey Supreme Court decision.  Well, at least if he still believes this:

“I don’t think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that’s what a state chooses to do so.  I view the definition of marriage different from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights.  And I strongly believe that marriage ought to be defined as between a union between a man and a woman.  Now, having said that, states ought to be able to have the right to pass laws that enable people to be able to have rights like others.”

So it’s up to New Jersey’s legislature.  And Bush would vote for civil unions.  I can live with that.  I’d prefer marriage equality, but within a another generation, I really don’t think it will even be a contentious issue.”

Well, it seems that Sullivan was very naive to think that “the president [would be] fine with the New Jersey Supreme Court decision.”  At his very first opportunity, Bush lost no time in turning the ruling into a political weapon, fueling the flames of homophobia in order to bolster support for Republican candidates in the upcoming elections.

President Bush Immediately Seized upon New Jersey Court Ruling as a Political Weapon…

President George W. Bush immediately seized upon the New Jersey court ruling that may pave the way for same-sex marriage as a political weapon to support Republicans in the November 7th elections.  Campaigning for a struggling Republican congressional candidate on Thursday, Bush strongly argued against the court’s ruling: “We believe in family values, we believe values are important, and we believe marriage is a fundamental institution of civilization.”

Yesterday, in New Jersey, we had another activist court issue a ruling that raises doubts about the institution of marriage,” he said at the first of two fundraisers that he was scheduled to attend.  “I believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and I believe it’s a sacred institution that is critical to the health of our society and the well-being of families, and it must be defended,” he proclaimed.






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