The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the equal protection clause of the state’s constitution requires that “committed same-sex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the
civil marriage statutes.”
The court said its ruling does not necessarily mean same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in the state, only that they be afforded the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples. The name given to the statutory scheme to provide these benefits and rights could be marriage or some other term decided by the “democratic process,” according to the court.
In its ruling, the New Jersey court joins the high court in Massachusetts, which previously decided that its state constitution also guarantees equal treatment for gays and lesbian couples.
“Denying committed same-sex couples the financial and social benefits and privileges given to their married heterosexual counterparts bears no substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose, ” the New Jersey court opinion said.
The opinion said the issue is “not about the transformation of the traditional definition of marriage, but about the unequal dispensation of benefits and privileges to one of two similarly situated classes of people.”
The court said that the Legislature must either amend the marriage statutes or enact an appropriate statutory structure within 180 days of the date of the decision.
The opinion is Mark Lewis and Dennis Winslow, et al. v. Gwendolyn L. Harris, etc., et al.
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