New Jersey Superior Court Rules to Allow Lambda Legal to Proceed with Marriage Equality Case

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Garden State Equality and seven same-sex couples to get their day in court.

Date

Date: 
11/04/2011
Hayley Gorenberg

"These families need marriage equality and should not have to live with a law that treats them as inferior."

(Trenton, November 4, 2011)—A New Jersey Superior Court Judge ruled today that Lambda Legal will be allowed to proceed with its case seeking marriage equality on behalf of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, and seven same-sex couples and their children harmed by the state’s unequal civil union system.

"We are delighted that the New Jersey Superior Court will allow this case to continue and permit us to demonstrate how the legislature’s crafting of a status other than marriage for same-sex couples has failed to provide them the equality promised by the New Jersey Constitution. Civil union relegates New Jersey’s same-sex couples to a second-class status that keeps them and their families vulnerable," said Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director. "By moving to dismiss, the government was trying to prevent us from showing exactly how the current classification system based on sexual orientation harms families. New Jersey’s exclusion interferes during medical crises, denies them health insurance, and leads to discrimination against them even in funeral homes. These families need marriage equality and should not have to live with a law that treats them as inferior."

Today’s hearing involved the effort of the Attorney General of New Jersey to have the case dismissed without any further proceedings. Lambda Legal argued that the plaintiffs are entitled to their day in court and that the New Jersey Supreme Court has directed that evidence be presented so that the court system may consider whether same-sex couples are being denied the constitutional rights of equal protection and due process. Today’s ruling will allow Lambda Legal to proceed with its equal protection claim.

"Garden State Equality continues to receive complaints from same-sex couples across the state about this confusing and discriminatory system. After more than four years, the civil union law continues to be among the greatest civil rights failures of our time. It is time to end this cruel experiment and replace it with the only status that will ever provide equality, and that's marriage," said Steven Goldstein, Chair and CEO of Garden State Equality.

"We're doing this for our family, of course, because we don't want to have to continue to go through what we do on a day-to-day basis, but we are also doing this so that families in the future won't have to walk around with a binder full of papers justifying themselves to everyone," said Elena Quinones, a plaintiff in the lawsuit along with her partner Liz Quinones and their four children.

Last June, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit for marriage equality arguing that barring same-sex couples from marriage and relegating them to civil union violates the constitutional rights of those couples and their children.

Plaintiffs:

Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, with more than 82,000 members is an organizational plaintiff in the case. The individual plaintiff couples include: Daniel Weiss, 46, and John Grant, 46, of Asbury Park, who have been together for four years; Marsha Shapiro, 56, and Louise Walpin, 57, of Monmouth Junction, who have been together for 22 years and raised four children; Cindy Meneghin, 53, and Maureen Kilian, 53, of Butler, who were high school sweethearts and have been together for 36 years, raising two children; Tevonda and Erica Bradshaw, both 36, of North Plainfield, who have an infant son and have been together for more than four years; Marcye and Karen Nicholson-McFadden, 47 and 45 respectively, of Aberdeen, who have been together for 21 years and have two children; Keith Heimann, 53, and Tom Davidson, 49, of Shrewsbury, who will celebrate their 25th anniversary together in January, and have two daughters; Elena and Liz Quinones, 33 and 45 respectively, of Phillipsburg, who are raising four children and have been together for nine years.

Meet the plaintiff couples and their families

Background:

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 December 2008 the Civil Union Review Commission, appointed by the legislature pursuant to the Civil Union Act itself, issued its unanimous report documenting how civil unions fall short of providing the court-mandated equality for same-sex couples. In January 2010, days before the legislative session ended, the New Jersey Senate voted on and failed to pass a marriage equality law. On March 18, 2010, Lambda Legal filed a motion in aid of litigants' rights asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to intercede and order marriage to secure compliance with its original mandate of equality for the Lewis v. Harris plaintiffs, but in July 2010, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied the motion, requiring further proceedings to develop a record in Superior Court.

The 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 and Eileen Conner of Gibbons, PC.

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Contact Info

Lambda Legal Contacts:
Jonathan Adams C: 646-752-3251; E: jadams@lambdalegal.org
Tom Warnke O: 213-382-7600 x 247; E: twarnke@lambdalegal.org

Garden State Equality Contact:
Steven Goldstein, C: 917-449-8918; Goldstein@GardenStateEquality.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

Garden State Equality is New Jersey's largest civil rights organization, with 84,000 members who fight everyday for equality for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.