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Follow Up Court Challenge to NJ Marriage Inequality to Come

January 7, 2010

Updated: with Lamda Legal’s Statement below

Garden State Equality and Lamda Legal will be returning to the courts to pursue equality.  The NJ Supreme Court ruled that same sex couples must be treated equally, but left it to the legislature to make that happen.  They’ve failed, and now it’s back to the courts since a new governor who is opposed to marriage equality will be sworn in shortly.

Here’s the remarks of Garden State Equality Chair Steven Goldstein:

With today’s vote in the state Senate, the New Jersey legislature defaulted on its constitutional obligation to provide same-sex couples in New Jersey equal protection, as unanimously mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2006.  That’s why we at Garden State Equality are here with our partner Lambda Legal, which has an extraordinary track record of advancing LGBT civil rights in the courts.

Now our organizations will announce major news.  Our side is going back to court to win marriage equality.

We’ll hear from Lambda Legal in a moment.   Let’s be clear about what this news means.  We are not waiting out the term of any new Administration to bring equality to same-sex couples in our state.

In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court told the legislature it could enact marriage or another structure that provides the equal protection of marriage.  But the civil union law failed to do that.   Too often, civil union couples too often cannot visit loved ones in hospitals, make medical decisions for their partners or receive equal health benefits from employers.   Hospitals and employers have treated civil union couples differently because they’ve been labeled differently.   Children have been treated differently at school because their families are labeled differently.

In recent months, including today and at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in December, New Jersey legislators publicly recognized these failures.  They publicly acknowledged that the civil union law has not provided equal protection.  That’s important.  New Jersey legislators themselves said it.  Our opponents in the legislature said it.

In other words, though we didn’t achieve our final victory today, we’re better positioned than we were a few months ago to win marriage equality.  So if you’re wondering how we feel, it’s complicated.   On the one hand, we resent, more than you can imagine, remaining second-class citizens a bit longer.  On the other hand, the ball has moved forward.  The public record for the courts is mighty, and we’re closer than ever to winning.

In 2006, New Jersey enacted an experiment called civil union.  In 2010, New Jersey has a mountain of proof that the experiment has failed.

Now let’s talk about what happened politically.

Things didn’t go our way in the legislature because of one factor:  Governor Corzine lost reelection.

After his win in November, Governor-elect Christie persuaded a number of legislators to reverse their support of the bill.   Before the election, nearly every neutral observer in New Jersey thought marriage equality was certain to become law in lame duck.  It became the zeitgeist in Trenton, with good reason.  In contrast to today’s outcome, before the election we had votes to spare in the Senate, including from a number of Republicans.

But the election changed everything and our national opponents changed nothing.  They didn’t do much or spend much in New Jersey.   As you saw from our thousands of members at the State House these past few weeks who symbolized the massiveness of our campaign, we overwhelmed our opponents on every front – but one.   Our opponents had the Governor-elect on their side, and that’s all they needed to have.   It’s ironic given that marriage equality wasn’t even an issue in the election, and that the candidates who favored marriage equality together won a majority.

All this said, we extend to Governor-elect Christie an outstretched hand.   He will be the Governor of all of us.   We ask him to continue the tradition of his Republican predecessors, Christie Whitman and Tom Kean, who always kept an open door to the LGBT community.   And though we differ with the Governor-elect on marriage equality, we also seek to explore with him and his Administration the issues on which we may have agreement and can work together.

No political party should write off any constituency.  And no party should take any constituency for granted either.   Our fundamental right to equality should never have been left to sudden death overtime by the party to which the LGBT community and our allies have been unstintingly loyal and have given so much.

To be clear, we will continue to support those who support us.   Over the past five-and-a-half years, the separate Garden State Equality political committee has provided thousands of campaign volunteers and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for supportive candidates through contributions to the organization, or through contributions from individuals directly to candidates.

Of course, when we exceed politicians’ expectations in ways they like, we never hear, you’re going too far, your fervor is too much.  That double standard, which other minority communities have heard in their own fights for equality, hurts deeply.   And it hurts everyone who stands for equality, including supporters in the majority.

Now there will be a sustained response not only from the LGBT community, but also from straight progressive voters who have been our equal partners.  Marriage equality stopped being just a gay issue long ago.

To those who let us all down, here’s our policy:  Don’t ask, don’t expect.   You can’t take progressives’ money and volunteers with one hand, slap us in the face with the other, and then act astonished when we declare our independence.   The marketplace of democracy runs along a two-way street.

Members and friends, today was not an outcome lost, but rather a juncture in an otherwise glorious road to justice.   Since Garden State Equality’s founding in 2004, New Jersey has enacted 210 LGBT civil rights laws at the state, county and local levels, a national record.  We have 64,000 members – LGBT and straight alike – who have improved the lives of millions.   A watchdog organization, eQualityGiving.com, just ranked New Jersey #1 in America for LGBT rights, tied with three other states, and we haven’t even won marriage equality yet.

But we will soon.  Cesar Chavez said it best.  You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.  You cannot humiliate the people who feel pride.  You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.  We have seen the future, and the future is ours.

Before I introduce our colleagues from Lambda Legal, some thanks are in order.  Thank you to all our Senate sponsors, including prime sponsors Loretta Weinberg and Raymond Lesniak.  We appreciate Loretta and Raymond beyond measure for their indefatigable leadership, and extend to them our love.   We thank Senators Bill Baroni and Nia Gill – unwavering voices for justice at our committee hearing.   We thank all our Assembly sponsors, including prime sponsors Reed Gusciora, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, John McKeon and Mila Jasey.   We thank our Governor Corzine and Speaker Roberts for their support.  And let me say this about Governor Dick Codey:  He’s been an extraordinary champion of equality who kept his word about a Senate vote.  Every progressive in New Jersey should view Governor Codey as a hero.

We thank the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign, Gill Action, the Civil Marriage Collaborative, the Arcus Foundation and Freedom to Marry, which have given us resources and wisdom.  We thank our partners at the state level, including the ACLU of New Jersey, BlueWave, Democracy for America, New Jersey Citizen Action, New Jersey Stonewall Democrats and the state’s progressive voice on the web, Blue Jersey, to which we owe so much.

We thank our spectacular field staff who joined us from across the country.   We thank our executive committee, board, staff and donors who make Garden State Equality possible.  We thank the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition for its decades of groundwork.   We thank all the supportive staff in the legislature and executive branch.   We especially thank our thousands of volunteers – the stars of Garden State Equality – who rallied at the State House and worked in our offices and in the field throughout the year.  And if I may, I thank my partner Daniel and all the loved ones of our staff and volunteers who have supported us and sacrificed so much.

Most of all, we thank our colleagues at Lambda Legal, without whom our march toward equality would never have gotten this far.  We’re thrilled to reunite with our partner Lambda Legal in the next stage of the battle.  Please welcome Leslie Gabel-Brett, Lambda Legal’s director of education and public affairs.

From Lamda Legal:

Today Lambda Legal announced plans to go back to court to seek marriage equality after the New Jersey Senate failed to pass a marriage bill, effectively ending hope for passage this session.

“The requirement to ensure equality for same-sex couples, established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in its decision in our marriage lawsuit 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.”

When the Lewis v. Harris case was decided in 2006 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.

“We applaud Garden State Equality and thousands of advocates for speaking up and working tirelessly for equality,” added Cathcart.

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. Just since Thanksgiving, Garden State Equality reports that nearly 4,500 people have come to Trenton to lobby legislators to vote in favor of marriage for same-sex couples.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 21, 2010 5:01 pm

    LESBIAN DOUBLE STANDARD: This week we had in-laws over for dinner. Inspired by Chuck we made our own pizzas, including a goat cheese, roasted butternut squash, arugula, olive oil pie…yum! yum! Anyway, over dinner conversation my wife was telling Grandma & Grandpa about how we got a free subscription to Showtime, and that we’re recording ‘The L Word‘, a drama about lesbians. My wife observed: “How come we hear about women who are sick of men and start dating other women? But we never hear a man say, ‘I’m sick of women! I think I’ll start dating men!’”

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