Open Letter From Kevin Cathcart on <em>Lewis v. Harris</em>

Find Your State

Know the laws in your state that protect LBGT people and people living with HIV.

October 22, 2007

The Honorable Jon Corzine
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 001
Trenton, NJ  08625
Fax No. (609) 292-3454

The Honorable Richard Codey
Senate President
449 Mount Pleasant Ave
West Orange, NJ  07054
Fax No. (973) 731-0647

The Honorable Joseph J. Roberts
Brooklawn Shopping Plaza
Route 130 & Browning Rd.
Brooklawn, NJ 08030
Fax No. (856) 742-1831

Dear Governor Corzine, Senate President Codey and Assembly Speaker Roberts,

October 25, 2007 marks the one-year anniversary of the landmark decision in Lambda Legal's lawsuit Lewis v. Harris unanimously declaring that same-sex couples must be treated equally under the law. That decision started New Jersey on the road to marriage equality. I am writing to say that the time has come to reach our final destination – it is time to establish equality in New Jersey and allow same-sex couples to marry just as other couples can.

When the New Jersey Supreme Court referred this matter to the Legislature, it did so on the grounds that the Legislature should have the first chance to decide how to correct the inequality same-sex couples faced. Marriage would fulfill the state constitution's promise of equality. But the Court left the door open for other options, at least for now, and the legislature has thus far chosen a civil union law. 

But now a year has passed since the Court ruling and there is clear evidence that the civil union law does not work:  By creating a separate status for same-sex couples, the government has invited others to discriminate against them and some, sadly, have taken the invitation.  And even where same-sex couples appear to have the same concrete benefits that married couples do, they do not have the security and dignity of being able to explain to their children, their neighbors, or their children's teachers that they are married.  Civil unions are a discriminatory label that renders same-sex couples different and inferior and no amount of tinkering with the rules and benefits can erase that stain of inequality.

Since the law passed, Lambda Legal has worked directly with over one hundred individuals who have called us seeking help addressing unequal treatment or disregard for their civil unions. Garden State Equality counts scores more. Often we confront the civil union law's failure in employers' denial of family health insurance. One such employer was United Parcel Service, or UPS. While UPS read the specific terms of the law and still reached the wrong conclusion, most New Jerseyans will never read the law. Instead, they know gay people were denied marriage, and they take away a discriminatory message from that. That is the common denominator of the matters we've handled at Lambda Legal: the civil union law invites discrimination.

Of course neither UPS nor anyone else should take New Jersey's invitation to discriminate. But of far greater importance, New Jersey's government should not be inviting the rest of New Jersey to discriminate in the first place.

We are grateful for the Governor's letter in support of Lambda Legal's clients in our successful legal action against UPS. But same-sex couples in New Jersey cannot walk though life with their Governor on one side and a lawyer on the other. Same-sex couples and their families should not have to fight these battles over and over.

I was born and raised in New Jersey and I am proud whenever my home state sets an example, as it has in the past, for fairness.  On this first anniversary of the Lewis v. Harris decision, I am writing to urge you to fulfill the state's constitutional promise of equality and enact a law to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.


Kevin M. Cathcart
Executive Director
Lambda Legal