Thursday, October 26, 2006

New Jersey Backs Equality

Well, for some reason I coudn't get on my blog yesterday, so I missed commenting on this great story. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a 4-3 vote that the state must confer equal rights to same-sex couples under the state constitution. Interestingly, the three dissenters voted no because they wanted the decision to go further and guarantee same-sex couples the right to be "married." The court gave the state legislature 180 days to figure out a way to implement a fair policy.

From the New York Times this morning:

The issue revolves around a single word — whether to call this newly constructed relationship, which has all the rights and obligations of marriage — a marriage.

But it will be far from simple when the issue lands a few blocks away at the State House, where the governor and the Legislature have 180 days, according to the court, to come up with an answer.

Gay rights advocates say they will press hard to call this new legal relationship a marriage and not something else, such as a civil union. Many conservatives, meanwhile, have promised to push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage — just as some lawmakers are doing now in Massachusetts, where that state’s Supreme Judicial Court validated a right to gay marriage in 2003...

Two years ago, New Jersey Democrats managed to sidestep the gay marriage issue when they passed a domestic partnership law that offered same-sex couples some — but not all — of the rights that married couples have.

Now the issue is back, and there appears to be no getting around it. And for lawmakers, it comes as all 120 members of the Legislature face re-election in 2007.

Governor Corzine said he welcomed the court’s conclusions, adding, “I look forward to the legislative process implementing the court’s decision.”

But in a joint statement, Richard J. Codey, the Senate president, and Joseph J. Roberts Jr., the Assembly speaker, indicated that Democrats would not go the extra step of defining the new legal partnership as a marriage.

Another top Democrat, Senator Raymond J. Lesniak of Union County, echoed that point. He said that he and other members of the party’s caucus had discussed a compromise, which would extend the marriage rights to gay couples but classify their relationships as “civil unions.”

“Marriage has been a religious institution adopted by the government and a lot of religions have defined it in a way that that excludes gays,” Mr. Lesniak said. “That’s not what the government does, and the court clearly demands that we offer gay couples the same rights and obligations that heterosexual couples have under our marriage laws. But we can do it in a way that respects people’s religious beliefs.”

I have said it before and will keep saying it: the state needs to get out of the marriage business. The state should be giving straight and gay couples certificates of civil union that guarantee them legal protections. Marriage is the business of religious communities, and they should be free to bless the civil unions with marriage ceremonies according to their religious tenets. It is time to end this last bastion of the state meddling in the affairs of religion.

1 comment:

ProgressiveChurchlady said...

This ruling was wonderful news!

I must admit however that after my initial joy upon hearing this ruling, my next thought was, "Couldn't they have waited to announce this ruling until Nov. 8?"

I have a feeling it will be used to whip into a frenzy the conservative voters who might otherwise have stayed home from the polls this year in disgust/dismay. Up until today, this block of voters haven't had much to be excited about. Now when they tune their dials to Rush L. or their t.v. dials to Pat R. there will be a "rally call".