New Jersey Superior Court Reinstates Federal Equal Protection Claim in Lambda Legal Marriage Equality Case

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"Having both a state and federal equal protection claim will only make our case stronger."
Febrero 21, 2012
Jon W. Davidson

"We are pleased that the New Jersey Superior Court will allow us to show how civil unions fail to provide to same-sex couples the equality promised by both the New Jersey Constitution and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

(Trenton, February 21, 2012) – In response to the plaintiff’s request for reconsideration, a New Jersey Superior Court today reinstated the federal equal protection claim in Lambda Legal’s case seeking marriage equality on behalf of Garden State Equality and seven same-sex couples and their children harmed by the state’s unequal civil union system.

"We are pleased that the New Jersey Superior Court will allow us to show how civil unions fail to provide to same-sex couples the equality promised by both the New Jersey Constitution and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," said Jon Davidson, Legal Director at Lambda Legal. "Having both a state and federal equal protection claim will only make our case stronger. We look forward to presenting a complete record of the discrimination that New Jersey’s same-sex couples and their children face because of their relegation to civil unions rather than marriage."

"Civil union consigns New Jersey’s same-sex couples to second-class status and it continues to harm families. New Jersey’s exclusion interferes during medical crises, leads to the denial of health insurance, and contributes to discrimination even in funeral homes. These families need marriage equality and should not have to live with a law that treats them as inferior," Davidson continued.

“We are gaining momentum in New Jersey and there is no turning back,” said Steven Goldstein, Chair and CEO of Garden State Equality, the statewide LGBT equality group and lead plaintiff in the case. “The majority of voters are in favor of marriage equality, the legislature is in favor of marriage equality – and now we intend to show that both the state and federal constitutions bar the second class treatment New Jersey is now providing.”

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. In November, the Court ruled that Lambda Legal could proceed to court on a claim that civil union violates the state Equal Protection Clause. Today’s ruling will allow Lambda Legal to proceed with both a state and federal equal protection claim.

Plaintiffs

Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, with more than 89,000 members, is an organizational plaintiff in the case. The plaintiffs include:  Daniel  Weiss, 47, and John Grant, 47, of Asbury Park, who have been together for four years; Marsha Shapiro, 57, and Louise Walpin, 58, of Monmouth Junction, who have been together for 22 years and raised four children; Cindy Meneghin, 54, and Maureen Kilian, 54, of Butler, who were high school sweethearts and have been together for 37 years, raising two children; Tevonda and Erica Bradshaw, both 37, of North Plainfield, who have an infant son and have been together for more than four years; Marcye and Karen Nicholson-McFadden , 48 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 this year celebrated their 25th anniversary together , 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 all the plaintiffs 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 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 final report documenting how civil union falls 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 Jonathan Manes of Gibbons, PC.

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Contact Info

Lambda Legal Contact: Jonathan Adams C: 646-752-3251; E: jadams@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, winning 212 LGBT civil rights laws at the state, county and local levels – a national record.  The laws include America's strongest and most inclusive laws to combat discrimination, hate crimes and school bullying, as well as America's strongest transgender equality law.

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