New Jersey Court Rules for Same-Sex Rights New Jersey's highest court rules that same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples. Now, it will be up to the legislature to rewrite state laws to provide for gay marriage or some other form of civil union. Robert Siegel talks to reporter Nancy Solomon.
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New Jersey Court Rules for Same-Sex Rights

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New Jersey Court Rules for Same-Sex Rights

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New Jersey Court Rules for Same-Sex Rights

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

New Jersey's highest court handed a partial victory to supporters of gay marriage today. The court ruled that gay couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples in the state. But the justices left it to the legislature to decide how to meet that requirement.

Reporter Nancy Solomon joins us from Newark. And Nancy, this was actually a split decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court?

NANCY SOLOMON: Yes, it was in the sense that Lambda Legal, the lawyers who had filed the lawsuit, had hoped that the court would do as Massachusetts did and say that the state must allow same sex couples to marry and that that marriage would be exactly the same.

Instead, the court left it up to the legislature to determine whether it would be a new form of marriage called civil unions or whether they would change the marriage statutes to include same sex couples.

I thought that the folks from Lambda Legal and the plaintiffs in the case, I thought that they'd be a little disappointed with that. But they said no, that they're thrilled with this decision, that it was historic that the court said that the current system discriminates against them and that that is wrong and it can't continue. And that's what they're very happy about.

SIEGEL: The court was saying that married couples in the state of New Jersey enjoy certain privileges under the law and same sex couples must be granted the same privileges.

SOLOMON: That's exactly what it said. And even the court, in writing its opinion, said that they believed this decision significantly advanced the civil rights for gays and lesbians in the state of New Jersey.

SIEGEL: Well, you mentioned the Massachusetts ruling, which had gone further than this and said that in order to achieve equal rights, there had to be same sex marriage. It's not quite that far. What might it compare with in terms of other rulings that we've seen from state courts?

SOLOMON: Right. It's a lot more like the Vermont decision, in which the Vermont Supreme Court told the legislature to act to change the discrimination. This court said it wants the legislature to act, but it wants it to act within 180 days, so it put a deadline on it. And it gave them two choices. The decision says either the legislature can amend the marriage statute to include same sex couples, or it can create civil unions that are equal.

They say the point is it must be equal. And so in that sense, it is a bit more like Vermont than Massachusetts.

SIEGEL: Now, you heard what Lambda Legal had to say at a news conference, and you said they were celebrating this decision. What about opponents of gay marriage in New Jersey? What do they say?

SOLOMON: I spoke with the New Jersey Family Policy Council earlier today and they're linked with Focus on the Family, which is a Christian Conservative group. And they say that they're absolutely ready to go ahead with a constitutional ban, so that they would change the part of the New Jersey constitution that the court relied on in this decision.

But it's gonna be a hard road for these folks, because first of all, you know, this is a Democratically controlled legislature. They might not be exactly pro gay marriage, but both Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature and including Governor John Corzine have said that they're not particularly interested in amending the state constitution.

So this opposition group would have to go to the legislature to get a amendment to the constitution on the ballot for voters. And so that would take quite a bit of legislative support to do that.

SIEGEL: That's reporter Nancy Solomon speaking to us from Newark, New Jersey, about today's ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which has ordered the legislature to come up with a solution to the problem of discrimination against same sex couples. They have to do so within six months.

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