Gay Marriage in New Jersey
posted by Mike Dimino
Courtesy of Howard is this article from Newsday describing the case pending in New Jersey which challenges that state’s restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples. In the interest of full disclosure, I favor allowing gay couples to marry, but I would prefer that decision be made by state legislatures. I am not yet convinced that the Equal Protection Clause of the federal Constitution requires state recognition of gay marriages, though I understand the parallels to Loving v. Virginia.
I am curious to see what the New Jersey Supreme Court does with the case, from a political perspective as well as a legal one. Assume that the court thinks the proper result is to strike down the restriction. Should the court “vote its sincere preferences,” as political scientists say, the practical effect in the short term will be a tremendous electoral advantage for the Republicans, as happened in response to the Massachusetts ruling perhaps including the re-election of the President. Surely the last thing the New Jersey Supreme Court wants to do is help Republicans. Heck, that court’s decision in the Doug Forrester case in 2002 was far more transparently partisan than any ruling in Bush v. Gore. Some political science suggests that the court will shade its interpretations so as not to antagonize the other branches, which are not accepting of gay marriage, but the evidence is far from conclusive. See, e.g., Jeffrey A Segal, Separation-of-Powers Games in the Positive Theory of Congress and Courts, 91 Am. Pol. Sci. Rev. 28 (1997); William N. Eskridge, Jr., Reneging on History? Playing the Court/Congress/President Civil Rights Game, 79 Cal. L. Rev. 613 (1991).
For this reason, however, the court is in a no-win posture. If the court mandates gay marriage, it triggers the ire and votes of Republicans as well as opening itself to criticism for being judicial legislators. If it defeats the claim, it will be accused of doing so for political reasons rather than legal ones. Vermont-style civil unions are another option, though the article reports that New Jersey already grants domestic partnership developments. If the court tries to mandate civil unions its ruling may be the least defensible of all, for it would allow the state to create two classes of couples while effectively conceding that there is no reason not to give homosexual couples all the advantages of marriage.
It’s interesting that the provision apparently at issue is the New Jersey Constitution’s provision that “all persons are by nature free and independent” — not any provision explicitly invoking the ideal of “equality.” I know nothing of the way in which this clause has been interpreted in the past, but isn’t it ironic that the persons invoking the clause want the state to recognize their dependence on their partners, and for the state to recognize a continuing obligation to care for them? Free and independent indeed.