October 25th, 2006

New Jersey Supreme Court rules in favour of same-sex couples.

Just a few minutes ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its opinion on Mark Lewis, et al. v. Gwendolyn L. Harris et al., in which seven same-sex couples challenged the constitutionality of the New Jersey marriage laws after being denied marriage licenses.

The court held:

denying rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples that are statutorily given to their heterosexual counterparts violates the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1. To comply with this constitutional mandate, the Legislature must either amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples or create a parallel statutory structure, which will provide for, on equal terms, the rights and benefits enjoyed and burdens and obligations borne by married couples.

We will not presume that a separate statutory scheme, which uses a title other than marriage, contravenes equal protection principles, so long as the rights and benefits of civil marriage are made equally available to same-sex couples.

Of the seven judges, four supported this majority opinion. The remaining three agreed that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional, but went further, finding that these rights include the right to the title of "marriage" and that the New Jersey Constitution provides a "fundamental due process right to same-sex marriage."

The full text of the opinion is available in a 10-page PDF document. (Thanks to Laura Quilter for calling my attention to this case on her blog.)