With one seat vacant on the New Jersey Supreme Court, a three-three split decision on whether the high court would hear the challenge to the inadequacy of civil unions, which are available for same-sex couples in New Jersey, means that the effort launched by Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal hit a major roadblock today.
The effort was intended to avoid a filing in trial court, but today the three justices held that "[t]his matter cannot be decided without the development of an appropriate trial-like record."
From Steven Goldstein, the chair of Garden State Equality:
“Because of the legislature's inability to act and the Supreme Court's decision today, New Jersey continues in a caste system where an entire people are thrown aside into a profoundly inferior status, spit on, dumped on, utterly degraded, by hospitals and employers who mock the term "civil union." Children will continue to live with an imprimatur of inferiority, psychologically devastated because they can't marry or because their same-sex parents cannot marry. Same-sex couples will continue to be denied the consistent right to visit one another in the hospital, to make medical decisions for one another, and to receive equal health benefits from employers, all because of the deprivation of the equality and dignity that uniquely comes with the word ‘marriage.’
The Order: Lewis Order 7-26-10.pdf
[UPDATE AT 12:34 PM: A FIRST-TAKE ANALYSIS ...
The argument behind avoiding starting the case at the trial court was that the courts in New Jersey -- up to and including the Supreme Court -- already had heard the case regarding same-sex relationship recognition. In the 4-3 decision reached in October 2006, the majority did not decide whether marriage was required but ordered the legislature to provide equal "rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners." As the legislature chose the civil union route rather than marriage equality at that time, this case argued that, no, civil unions weren't enough to meet the obligations placed on the legislature in the original ruling.
Supporters of marriage equality also have raised concerns about steps Gov. Chris Christie (R) has taken to push the high court in a more conservative direction by declining to reappoint a justice to the Supreme Court, an unprecedented move in the state. As he gets the chance to refuse to reappoint other justices, the case could become less viable.
In January, the legislature's Senate voted down a marriage bill, which prompted the filing of the action turned down today.]
[UPDATE AT 1:13 PM: From Lambda Legal's deputy legal director, Hayley Gorenberg, in a statement:
"We are terribly disappointed about today's ruling. Our plaintiffs and the New Jersey legislature's own Civil Union Review Commission documented the rampant discrimination same-sex couples face as a consequence of civil union status, and this ruling now relegates our plaintiffs to second-class citizenship for even longer.
"The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of equality in 2006, and this ruling is a saddening setback for our plaintiffs and their families, who have been denied the rights and responsibilities of marriage for years, and now continue to be denied.
"We are now assessing possible next steps in Superior Court."]