Same-Sex Marriage in New Jersey

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE IN NEW JERSEY….The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that although the state constitution doesn’t mandate gay marriage (“we cannot find that a right to same-sex marriage is so deeply rooted in the traditions, history, and conscience of the people of this State that it ranks as a fundamental right”), it does prohibit the state from denying gay couples the same state benefits afforded to other couples:

The Legislature has recognized that the ?rights and benefits? provided in the Domestic Partnership Act are directly related ?to any reasonable conception of basic human dignity and autonomy.?….It is difficult to understand how withholding the remaining ?rights and benefits? from committed same-sex couples is compatible with a ?reasonable conception of basic human dignity and autonomy.?

….Disparate treatment of committed same-sex couples, moreover, directly disadvantages their children. We fail to see any legitimate governmental purpose in disallowing the child of a deceased same-sex parent survivor benefits under the Workers? Compensation Act or Criminal Injuries Compensation Act when children of married parents would be entitled to such benefits.

….Gays and lesbians work in every profession, business, and trade. They are educators, architects, police officers, fire officials, doctors, lawyers, electricians, and construction workers. They serve on township boards, in civic organizations, and in church groups that minister to the needy. They are mothers and fathers. They are our neighbors, our co-workers, and our friends. In light of the policies reflected in the statutory and decisional laws of this State, we cannot find a legitimate public need for an unequal legal scheme of benefits and privileges that disadvantages committed same-sex couples.

Good for them. I suppose this will spark another frenzied and cynical round of “scare the evangelicals” from Karl Rove & Co. just in time for the midterms, but you know what? Let ’em. Liberals shouldn’t run scared from this stuff just because there’s an election coming up.

In any case, this sounds like the right decision to me. Whether I like it or not, it seems indisputable that gay marriage simply can’t be considered a “deeply rooted” tradition protected by either the New Jersey constitution or the state legislature. However, denying same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as every other taxpayer does seem prima facie forbidden by any equal-protection clause worth the name. The court did the right thing.

UPDATE: By the way, it’s worth noting that the decision was essentially unanimous. Technically it was decided 4-3, but the dissenters all agreed that it was unconstitutional to deny equal rights to same-sex couples. The reason they dissented was that they felt the decision didn’t go far enough. They argued that the right to marriage itself was as fundamental as all the other rights:

[B]y asking whether there is a right to same-sex marriage, the Court avoids the more difficult questions of personal dignity and autonomy raised by this case. Under the majority opinion, it appears that persons who exercise their individual liberty interest to choose same-sex partners can be denied the fundamental right to participate in a state-sanctioned civil marriage. I would hold that plaintiffs? due process rights are violated when the State so burdens their liberty interests.