ACLU Cheers Unanimous New Jersey High Court Decision Saying State Can’t Bar Same-Sex Couples from Marriage Protections

October 25, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

NEW YORK --  The American Civil Liberties Union today cheered a unanimous decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court holding that it is unconstitutional for the state to bar same-sex couples from the hundreds of family protections the state provides through marriage. The court referred the matter to the state legislature, which has 180 days to either amend existing marriage laws or create some other system to give same-sex couples the same marriage protections under the law.

“Today’s court decision is a giant step toward ending the unfairness that same-sex couples face in marriage,” said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project.  “Same-sex couples fall in love, make commitments and build families just like opposite-sex couples.  And as the court ruled today, same-sex couples shouldn’t be denied the important family protections that come with marriage.  We now call on the New Jersey legislature to make sure that same-sex couples are not denied the dignity that comes only through marriage.”

Public support for marriage for same-sex couples in New Jersey is strong and growing.  New Jersey favors marriage for lesbian and gay couples 56 to 39 percent, according to a Garden State Equality-Zogby poll of New Jersey voters surveyed earlier this year.

The ACLU believes that the only way to guarantee full equal treatment for same-sex couples is for the state legislature to enact a law granting lesbian and gay couples the ability to marry.  As New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Deborah Poritz noted in her dissent, which was joined by two other justices: “We must not underestimate the power of language. Labels set people apart as surely as physical separation on a bus or in school facilities. Labels are used to perpetuate prejudice about differences that, in this case, are embedded in the law. By excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage, the State declares that it is legitimate to differentiate between their commitments and the commitments of heterosexual couples. Ultimately, the message is that what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as ‘real’ marriage, that such lesser relationships cannot have the same meaning of marriage.”

The plaintiffs, seven gay and lesbian couples who applied for and were denied marriage licenses, argue that the state violated their rights to privacy and equal protection under the New Jersey Constitution.

The ACLU of New Jersey submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the New Jersey Supreme Court supporting the right to marriage for the seven same-sex couples. The it brief was filed on behalf of numerous civil rights organizations -- including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Hispanic Bar Association and the National Organization for Women of New Jersey -- in calling for an end to this discrimination.

For more information on the ACLU’s fight for marriage rights, go to www.aclu.org/lgbt.

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