The Agenda

N.J. marriage equality advocates look to “Plan B”

What if the defeat of the New Jersey marriage equality bill actually leads to a court order implementing marriage rights for same-sex couples?  It could happen.

Advocates in the Garden State are vowing to go to court to prove that the state legislature did not sufficiently grant gay and lesbians the same rights as married straight couples when it passed a civil unions law several years ago.  They’ll be helped by recent public testimony in the state legislature admitting that the existing civil unions law has not met the court’s 2006 order.

George Amick, writing in the Times of Trenton, explains:

The Legislature quickly authorized civil unions. Unfortunately, they haven’t worked. Employers, insurers and hospitals have denied civil-unioned couples and their children the benefits married couples routinely enjoy, as a state commission created by the civil-union law found after a year’s study.

Legislators who are opposed to same-sex marriage don’t disagree. They conceded before the Senate Judiciary Committee and in debate on the Senate floor that the civil-union law has failed, but contended that it can be fixed. “There are many problems, but for each of those problems there is a solution if we put our minds to it,” said Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Demarest.

That was their mistake, according to proponents. “Their argument should have been that civil unions are working, and that there have been only a relatively few complaints,” one said. “Instead, they walked right into a trap.”

The “trap” is the fact that the civil-union law demonstrably can’t be revised to ensure equality, said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality and leader of the long lobbying campaign for same-sex marriage. His organization and Lambda Legal, which will provide the lawyers, will tell the high court — where five of the seven justices who decided the Lewis case still sit — that only marriage can provide the protections that opposite-sex couples enjoy without question.