Tagged: civil union

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New Jersey Marriage Equality Part II: When Lewis Met Windsor

United States v. Windsor, – U.S. –, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on somewhat murky constitutional grounds. It also provided the catalyst for this month’s move to marriage equality under state constitutional law in New Jersey. But it did so in a most curious way.

In Lewis v. Harris, 908 A.2d 196 (N.J. 2006), a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court had held that same-sex couples could not be denied the equal rights and benefits guaranteed by the New Jersey constitution. However, a four-person majority in Lewis demurred as to whether the state had to allow same-sex couples to marry, allowing the legislature instead to choose to create a new status that would provide the same rights and benefits as marriage, but with a different name. In short order the legislature enacted a Civil Union Act, which became effective in 2007.

From the outset, it was clear to marriage equality advocates that that civil union would not and could not convey the equal rights and benefits that Lewis v. Harris mandated. The New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission held hearings and made extensive findings to that effect, unanimously. But how to persuade either the courts or the legislature to make the move all the way to marriage equality? Both legislative and judicial mechanisms were deployed. As to litigation, there was an initial attempt in 2010 to return the matter directly to the New Jersey Supreme Court, by way of a motion in aid of litigant’s rights filed in Lewis v. Harris. It failed because the court determined, on a 3-3 vote, that an evidentiary record was necessary. 202 N.J. 340 (2010). It is this evidentiary trial process that Windsor short-circuited. Read More

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New Jersey Crosses the Finish Line to Marriage Equality – Maybe

Same-sex marriage became legal in New Jersey at 12:01 am on Monday, October 21. Wedding ceremonies are everywhere. The process may not be over, however; there are tactical decisions yet to be made as to how best to solidify and clarify the win.

It was a roundabout victory, achieved via a Superior Court decision last month, in which Judge Mary Jacobson held that civil union did not satisfy a state constitutional mandate of equal protection established in Lewis v. Harris (N.J. 2006). There followed, on Friday, October 18, a unanimous state Supreme Court ruling denying a motion for stay of Judge Jacobson’s order. So it’s legal for same-sex couples to marry here, but there is no a ruling on the merits by the state Supreme Court. That’s the problem. Read More

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Bizarro Section 1982 and “civil union” — a thought experiment in unequal names

Suppose that, immediately after the Civil War, instead of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1862, the Congress had enacted a statute that provided: “All citizens of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory, as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real and personal property, except that as to non-whites some other name shall be used instead of ‘property'; and for the interests of non-whites parallel to property, names other than ‘purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey’ shall be used.”

This bizarro version of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1982 would cause non-whites constitutional injuries of several types, and would fail to effectuate an underlying constitutional purpose of equality.  We might enumerate, at a minimum, the following types of injuries. (1) There would be widespread confusion, for some time, as to what the new and supposedly equal rights of non-whites were, because those rights are to be called by different names.  The confusion would be increased if different states chose different new for the new institution parallel to property.  (2) In order to carry out the statute’s command to use different names, everyone involved in an interaction, transaction, or event concerning property or ownership would be required to sort the participants into whites and non-whites just to talk legal talk accurately.   The bizarro statute endorses and in many circumstances requires the continued practice of legally distinguishing whites and non-whites.   (3) Non-whites would have to expend considerable effort teaching and explaining the new “non-property” terminology in order to claim the equal rights supposedly granted by the statute. (4) In order to comply with the law’s nomenclature distinctions, legally non-white individuals who might pass for white would be forced to identify themselves as non-white wherever their “property” rights were involved.  (5) Confusion over the new, unfamiliar terminology would result in the denial of the tangible equal rights the legislature intended to grant, both because of genuine confusion, and because a feigned confusion could be used by persons seeking to avoid the statute’s command of equality as to the institution of property.

An unlikely scenario?  This argument is adapted from the draft of an amicus brief on behalf of the New Jersey State Bar Association, to be filed in the Lewis v. Harris II litigation pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court.  I described that litigation in a post here yesterday, and (I must disclose) I helped write this part of this amicus brief.  The litigation is about a different institution, though — not property, but “marriage” and its bizarro double, “civil union”.

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Lewis v. Harris II — “civil union” versus “marriage”, one more time

Last month, on behalf of several same-sex couples, Lambda Legal filed a “Petition in Aid of Litigants’ Rights”  with the New Jersey Supreme Court, asking for further relief in Lewis v. Harris, 908 A.2d 196 (N.J. 2006).    The petition argues that the state’s Civil Union Law, created in 2006,  has utterly failed to create the constitutionally required equality for same-sex couples.  It requests the court to revisit the matter forthwith and order the state to recognize marriage for same-sex couples.

In 2006 in Lewis v.  Harris, the court held 7 – 0  that New Jersey’s constitution as a matter of equal protection (although not as a fundamental right) required the state to provide all the rights and benefits of marriage to committed same-sex couples, and also some kind of full legal recognition — the already-existing “domestic partnership” regime, with its limited benefits and different structure, was constitutionally insufficient.  But the court split 4 – 3 on whether to require the legislature to include same-sex couples within the legal definition of marriage, or to permit the legislature in its discretion instead to create a new legal institution for same-sex couples.  The legislature (very quickly) chose the latter course, enacting New Jersey’s Civil Union Law.

Three years later, the March 2010 pleading challenges that law as constitutionally inadequate.  It argues that the separate institution of civil union does not convey to same-sex couples and their families the important though intangible status of marriage, and that the separate-but-equal approach stigmatizes them in an ongoing way; that same-sex couples and their families must expend considerable effort and suffer considerable embarrassment claiming the equal rights that “civil union” is supposed to provide; and that in daily encounters, failures of others to recognize “civil union”, whether inadvertent or deliberate and feigned, regularly result in not being accorded rights and benefits equivalent to those of different-sex married couples, the goal that civil union is required to achieve.

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