Gay-Marriage Rights Are Dealt Setback by Jersey High Court


Marriage-equality advocates have been dealt another blow, and this one came Monday in neighboring New Jersey, where the state’s Supreme Court declined to hear an equal-protection case involving six gay couples.

The six couples include Dennis Winslow and Mark Lewis of Union City, partners who are both Episcopal priests. It seemed like they had a pretty logical case (within the twisted logic of New Jersey’s history with marriage equality.)

In 2003, New Jersey began to allow domestic partnerships, which had very wimpy legal protections for gay couples. Unsatisfied, some Jersey gay rights activists petitioned the legal system for equal treatment.

The case, Lewis v. Harris, in 2006, provided one of the most forceful, and utterly confusing, decisions on marriage equality in the nation. All seven justices said that the state had to offer equal legal protection to all couples, gay or straight, and that it was the legislature’s obligation to provide it. But four of those justices said that could be done with the legislature upgrading from “domestic partnerships” to “civil unions,” while three justices said the legislature had to amend marriage laws to include same-sex couples. Whatever they chose, they had six months to do it.

The New Jersey legislature chose the minimal upgrade, and when lawmakers finally got around to voting on full marriage itself early this year, they declined once again to offer full equality. Civil unions, meanwhile, are widely mocked, legally dubious, and leave couples open to all forms of treatment married couples never face.

So, along come Winslow and Lewis et al. But even though half of the justices voted to hear their case, the Supreme Court is down a justice, and apparently a tie means the case can’t be heard. The other three didn’t vote down Winslow and Lewis’ case, per se, but they said they have to go to the lowest court and build up a trial record first — just to eventually show that they’re not getting what the Supreme Court ordered they should be receiving back in 2006.

With gay marriage illegal in New York and New Jersey, Connecticut stands as the only legal jurisdiction in the tri-state area that recognizes gay marriage. To this end, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is getting married (to a woman) in Connecticut, to protest the unfair treatment between gay and straight couples in the very city where he is an elected official.