On Oct. 25, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples under state marriage laws. However, a majority of the court ( in a 4-3 decision ) also ruled that the state's legislative branch has to decide what to name the newly-acknowledge right—whether it is marriage, domestic partnerships, civil unions or something else. The court's minority found that the plaintiffs are entitled to marriage.
The legislature has 180 days after the date of the ruling to decide upon a name, The Boston Globe reported. The judicial ruling and possible legislative decision mean that New Jersey could be the second state ( after Massachusetts ) to allow gay marriage.
'Although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists in this state, the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our state Constitution,' wrote New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Barry T. Albin in the
However, Deborah T. Poritz—in her final day as Chief Justice—wrote in a strongly-worded dissent that to rule that gay couples deserve all the rights of married heterosexuals and to not call it a marriage is not fair.
National gay rights advocates embraced the ruling. Lara Schwartz, legal director of Human Rights Campaign, said if legislators have to choose between civil unions and marriage, gay couples come out ahead in either case, according to The Washington Post.
In a statement, David Buckel—the Marriage Project Director who argued the case before the high court as lead counsel for Lambda Legal—said that 'the bottom line here is that the entire court said that there must be a remedy for the inequality that bars same-sex couples from marriage. The
question for the Legislature is an easy one: whether to follow through on the support of the majority of voters in this State to allow their gay friends and neighbors to marry, including over 20,000 committed same-sex couples raising more than 12,000 children.'
The New Jersey ruling reflects the step that the Vermont Supreme Court took in 1999 in a decision that prompted the Vermont legislature to authorize civil unions for same-sex couples, according to The Globe.