Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lewis v. Harris II: Lambda Legal files motion in New Jersey Supreme Court to uphold marriage equality under state constitution

Brief In Support of Plaintiffs Motion In Aid of Litigants Rights, Lewis v. Harris [II], No. 58389 (N.J. Sup. Ct., Mar. 18, 2010)

In Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415, 908 A.2d 196 (N.J. 2006), the New Jersey Supreme ruled that the state constitution's guarantee of equal protection requires the state to accord same-sex couples the same rights, benefits and protections of marriage that are available to opposite-sex couples. (N.J. Const. Art. I, ¶ 1) The Court directed the state legislature to enact a law that would meet this constitutional requirement. But the Court did not decide whether the law must also extend the label of "marriage" to the required legal status for same-sex couples. The legislature enacted a civil union law (N.J.S.A. 37:1-1 to 37:2-41) that gives these couples access to a status with all the rights and duties of marriage, except the label. The law established a Civil Union Review Commission to determine if this parallel status fulfilled the Lewis mandate of real equality. The Commission reported that it doesn't (interim and final reports), and a state legislative committee heard testimony. (Garden Equality has a summary of the Commission's final report.) Despite this extensive factual record of inequality, the legislature recently failed to remedy it by giving same-sex couples equal access to marriage.

Lambda Legal represents six same-sex couples in today's motion. The plaintiffs argue that "that same-sex couples lack workplace benefits and protections, face unequal treatment and lack of recognition in public accommodations and civic life, and that their children are 'prejudiced by the unequal and inferior legal and social status' of civil unions." (JURIST) They also describe inadequate family protections, and pervasive economic and psychological harms to parents and their children. The couples have asked the Court to declare that the Civil Union Act violates the state constitution's guarantee of full equality to same-sex couples, and to direct the state to allow them to marry. (Lambda Legal press release) If the Court somehow finds the factual record insufficient, the plaintiffs have asked that the Court appoint a special master to further develop the record.

For news about the renewed litigation, see AP, The Star-Ledger,, and Freedom to Marry has posted a video of press statements. Of course, neither the news articles nor the video can convey the singular power of this brief.

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