The New Jersey Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a case from six same-sex couples seeking the right to marry, saying the case needs to wind its way through the lower courts first.
The court said it could not consider the merits of the claim that New Jersey’s civil union law is unconstitutional, until there is a trial record, leaving open the possibility it could hear the argument sometime in the future.
Garden State Equality issued this statement:
Today’s procedural decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court, voting 3 to 3 not to take the marriage equality case directly and all but inviting our side to initiate a new case at trial, is, of course, profoundly disappointing.
Today’s decision represents a delay until the Court hears how the civil union law has devastated same-sex families and their children. And any time justice is delayed, justice is denied.
Monday’s announcement is the latest in a series of setbacks for New Jersey’s gay marriage movement, which suffered successive blows from the November election of Governor Chris Christie and the defeat in January of a bill that would have legalized gay marriage.
Outgoing Governor, Jon Corzine, promised to sign the gay marriage bill if passed before he left office on January 19, 2010.
In 2006, the NJ Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples were due the full rights and benefits of heterosexual married couples, but left it up to the state Legislature to provide those rights, leading to the 2006 Civil Union Act.
In the court’s ruling (copy here, PDF), Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote, “This matter cannot be decided without development of an appropriate trial-like record.” He added that the court has reached “no conclusion” on the constitutionality of the Civil Union Act.
In the dissenting opinion, Justice Virginia Long wrote that the court should have heard oral arguments to help “guide us on the best procedural course” for creating a trial-like record.
The court’s decision was split 3-3. There is one vacancy on the court, and a majority would have been needed for the High Court to bypass the lower courts.
“This ruling is a saddening setback for our plaintiffs and their families,” said Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director for Lambda Legal. “We are now assessing possible next steps in Superior Court.”