Friday, in one of the first major court challenges since the demise of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the New Jersey Superior Court granted Lambda Legal’s motion for summary judgment in its case seeking marriage equality on behalf of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, and six same-sex couples who seek the freedom to marry. Unless it is stayed upon appeal, the decision takes effect on October 21.
“The Supreme Court opened the door to federal benefits, and now the Court in New Jersey has ruled that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. This news is thrilling. We argued that limiting lesbians and gay men to civil union is unfair and unconstitutional, and now the Court has agreed,” said Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director. “The end of DOMA made the freedom to marry even more urgent than before because the state stood between these families and a host of federal protections, benefits, rights and responsibilities. With this ruling, our clients and all of New Jersey’s same-sex couples are at the threshold of the freedom to marry.”
In their historic decision, the Court wrote:
…the current inequality visited upon same-sex civil union couples offends the New Jersey Constitution, creates an incomplete set of rights that Lewis sought to prevent, and is not compatible with “a reasonable conception of basic human dignity.
“We’ve won a great ruling today, and there is no turning back,” said Troy Stevenson, Executive Director of Garden State Equality. “Garden State Equality was proud to help initiate this historic case. We have long been leading the charge for equality, and we will continue to pursue every avenue to make sure New Jersey’s same-sex couples enjoy the dignity of marriage as quickly as possible.”
“Eleven years ago, when we asked Lambda Legal to work on our behalf, we were prepared for a long, hard road for our family and for other same-sex couples and their kids,” said Cindy Meneghin, plaintiff in the lawsuit along with her high school sweetheart, Maureen Kilian, and their two children. “The U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA was historic for the nation but out of reach for us here in New Jersey. Today, with this ruling, the full benefits of that historic Supreme Court decision are within our reach, and we couldn’t be happier.”
In June 2011, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry, arguing that barring same-sex couples from marriage and relegating them to civil union violates both the New Jersey Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution. This June, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, and Lambda Legal filed a motion for summary judgment in the New Jersey case, arguing that by barring marriage, the state of New Jersey denies same-sex couples the full range of federal benefits, rights, and protections available after the Windsor decision. Plaintiffs argued that this denial explicitly conflicts with the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in 2006 that says that same-sex couples should have the same rights and benefits as their different-sex counterparts.
In 2002, Lambda Legal filed a historic case, Lewis v. Harris, seeking marriage equality on behalf of seven New Jersey couples. The case reached the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2006. The high court ruled unanimously that same-sex couples must be provided all the benefits and responsibilities of marriage, although it declined at that time to mandate that marriage was specifically required, and gave the state legislature 180 days to provide equality. The legislature hastily passed a civil union law in December 2006, and began issuing civil union licenses to lesbian and gay couples in February 2007. In both the 2002 Lewis case as well as the 2011 GSE case the Gibbons Firm has been a strong pro bono partner with Lambda Legal contributing to the fight for the freedom to marry in New Jersey.
Meet all the plaintiffs and their families here.
This case is Garden State Equality et al. v. Dow et al.
Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director, is handling this case for Lambda Legal. She is joined by co-counsel, Lawrence S. Lustberg of Gibbons, PC.