The New Jersey Supreme Court held on October 25 in a 4-3 decision that the state’s constitution requires that same-sex couples be granted the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples. However, the dissenters argued the majority didn’t go far enough in vindicating the rights of same-sex couples. Lewis v. Harris, No. A-68-05 (Oct. 25).
“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,” said the majority in Lewis, brought by seven same-sex couples. “The court holds that under the equal protection guarantee … of the New Jersey constitution, 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 declined to label those rights as marriage, instead ordering the state legislature to amend its marriage statutes or enact a new law granting the state’s 16,000 same-sex couples the rights of married couples within 180 days. “The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to same-sex couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process,” the court stated.