The New Jersey Law Editorial Board, eminence grise of the state's bar, has called on Governor Chris Christie to withdraw his veto of the gay marriage bill the legislature passed. In light of United States v. Windsor New Jersey's civil union statute, once progressive, is now an obstacle to federal tax relief and benefits for those who avail themselves of the law. Better to go across the river and marry in New York than stay home. - GWC
Rights and Benefits Denied - NJ Law Journal Editorial
In Lewis v. Harris (2006), the New Jersey Supreme Court decided that the state constitution did not compel recognition of same-sex marriage. The majority, led by Justice Barry Albin, deferred to the Legislature on this emotionally charged issue but made it clear that the rights of those in civil unions must be equal to those who are married:"Our decision today significantly advances the civil rights of gays and lesbians. We have decided that our State Constitution guarantees that every statutory right and benefit conferred to heterosexual couples through civil marriage must be made available to committed same-sex couples. Now the Legislature must determine whether to alter the long accepted definition of marriage."Although not discussed in Lewis — a state constitutional challenge — the court acted in the shadow of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, which barred federal benefits to persons married in states that permit gay marriage. In that context, the Lewisguarantee of "every statutory right and benefit" available was a matter of state law. That landscape has been changed by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Windsor. Equal protection and due process now require federal recognition of same-sex marriages entered into in states which permit them.Same-sex married persons around the country will now be entitled to spousal benefits under federal law. They will file joint tax returns and obtain pension and Social Security benefits. But New Jersey couples in civil unions will not have those rights — unless they go elsewhere to marry. We recognize that not everyone agrees with that ruling. Gov. Chris Christie has labeled it a "bad decision." We recognize his right. We, too, sometimes disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court. But the landscape has changed. The Legislature passed a measure permitting same-sex marriage. The governor refused to sign it, saying the matter should be submitted to a referendum. It is now time for the governor to reconsider — despite his personal views on same-sex marriage — and to examine the needs of gay and lesbian partners, citizens of New Jersey who are denied federal benefits because we have not yet recognized their right to marry.Board members Ronald Chen, Lawrence Lustberg and Edwin Stern recused from this editorial.