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Lambda Legal back in New Jersey court, seeking marriage equality

TRENTON, N.J. – Lambda Legal returned today to the New Jersey Supreme Court, filing a motion seeking marriage equality on behalf of the plaintiffs in the original Lewis v. Harris lawsuit.

"The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered equality for same-sex couples when it decided our marriage lawsuit in 2006, and the legislature has failed to meet that crystal-clear obligation," said Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director at Lambda Legal. "Civil unions are a failed legislative experiment in providing equality in New Jersey - marriage equality is the only solution."

Lambda Legal, with pro bono co-counsel from the Gibbons firm, including partner Lawrence Lustberg, filed a Motion in Aid of Litigants' Rights arguing that the civil union remedy enacted by the New Jersey Legislature has not fulfilled the Constitution's guarantee of equality promised in the court's 2006 ruling.

"Because the legislature ignored the extensive research and unanimous conclusion of its own Civil Union Review Commission and the overwhelming evidence presented in hours of legislative testimony, we must go back to court," Gorenberg said.

When the Lewis v. Harris case was decided, two other states, Connecticut and Vermont, had civil union laws. Since then both states have thrown over those laws as unequal - one by court action and one by legislative action - and same-sex couples now have the right to marry there. Same-sex couples can also marry in Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia, and several foreign countries.

Lambda Legal filed Lewis v. Harris in June 2002 on behalf of seven same-sex couples seeking the right to marry.

The New Jersey Supreme Court issued its ruling on Oct. 25, 2006, unanimously agreeing that it is unconstitutional to give same-sex couples lesser rights than different-sex couples, but leaving the remedy to reach equality up to the legislature.

In December 2006, the New Jersey Legislature hastily enacted a civil union law. In December 2008, the Civil Union Review Commission, appointed by the legislature, issued its report documenting how civil unions fall short of the court-mandated equality for same-sex couples.

Following a hard–fought campaign led by Garden State Equality, the New Jersey Senate voted on and failed to pass a marriage equality law days before the legislative session ended in January.

Statements from all of the plaintiffs

Sarah and Suyin Lael: "With our kids watching, we have to explain that we are in a civil union with each other and that we are both parents of our daughters, which would never happen if we could just say 'we're married.' Those few words that everybody knows so well make an enormous difference - a difference our civil union has not made."

Mark Lewis and Dennis Winslow: "After the court decision, we hoped that our civil union would provide much of the security we had been seeking, but we have learned that too often, that is not the case. Even the acceptance we experience is completely arbitrary and dependent on individuals' attitudes toward us. It's the difference between rights and luck."

Cindy Meneghin and Maureen Kilian: "Unfortunately Cindy has had to go to the Emergency Room both before we had a civil union and after - the trips were 12 years apart and health care providers were just as confused about our relationship and what their legal obligations were to respect it each time. Our civil union didn't help. The fear and degradation were with us then and are still with us today."

Diane Marini: "All through Marilyn's illness and even at her death, we faced barriers over and over again because we weren't married. It's often at critical times, in addition to the happy times, when you most need to be able to say you're married and have your relationship clearly understood."

Karen and Marcye Nicholson-McFadden: "As parents, we try to explain to our children that our relationship is just as valuable as a married relationship, that our family is just as valuable as others, and that they too should believe in committed relationships--but at the same time the government is sending the opposite message."

Alicia Heath Toby and Saundra Toby Heath: "We want the words to match our lives, and marriage is the only word that communicates our level of commitment to each other."

Chris Lodewyks and Craig Hutchison: "With a marriage, everyone can instantly relate to you and your relationship. They don't have to wonder what kind of relationship it is or how to refer to it or how much to respect it."

About Lambda Legal
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.