In what many gay rights groups have described as a disappointing turn of events, the New Jersey legislature yesterday voted down marriage equality in a vote of 14-20. The bill had passed out of the Judiciary Committee by a 7 to 6 vote this past December.
“The New Jersey Legislature has let down the state and the nation by failing to uphold the promise of equality and the state Constitution’s demand that same-sex couples be treated equally,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “Denying this fundamental freedom to the people of New Jersey — loving, committed same-sex couples and their families — doesn’t protect anyone. This action by the Legislature simply places more families in harm’s way and makes them more vulnerable to discrimination and hardship.”
“[The] vote by the New Jersey Senate perpetuates a system of inequality in the Garden State,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Failing to provide loving, committed couples access to marriage leaves them separate and unequal – civil unions are not the same as marriage.”
“There is ample proof that New Jersey’s civil unions law fails to provide equal protection,” adds Carey. “We will never settle for second-class status for our community. We will continue fighting until full equality is attained, and this includes marriage.”
Lambda Legal has announced plans take the issue back to court.
"The requirement to ensure equality for same-sex couples, established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in its decision in our marriage lawsuit Lewis v. Harris in 2006, has not been met," said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director at Lambda Legal. "There is enormous, heartbreaking evidence that civil unions are not equal to marriage, and we will be going back to the courts in New Jersey to fight for equality. Too many families are at risk. We cannot wait any longer."
Lambda Legal filed Lewis v. Harris in June 2002 on behalf of seven same-sex couples seeking the right to marry. The New Jersey Supreme Court issued its ruling on October 25, 2006, unanimously agreeing that it is unconstitutional to give same-sex couples lesser rights than different-sex couples, but leaving the remedy up to the legislature. In December 2008 the Civil Union Review Commission, appointed by the legislature, issued its report documenting how civil unions fall short of the court-mandated equality for same-sex couples.
At the time the case was decided two other states, Connecticut and Vermont, had civil union laws. Since then both states have thrown over those laws as unequal - one by court action and one by legislative action - and same-sex couples now have the right to marry there. Same-sex couples can also marry in Massachusetts, Iowa, and New Hampshire. The City Council in the District of Columbia recently passed a marriage equality measure which was signed by the mayor and will likely go into effect in March.