SAME-SEX MARRIAGE IN NEW JERSEY
Launching the Lewis v. Harris lawsuit
New Jersey is a fairly liberal state:
||It decriminalized consensual sex by same-sex couples in 1979.
||Its hate crimes laws include sexual orientation as a protected
||Bills that would say that "[p]ersons of the same sex shall not
marry," that any such marriage would be "absolutely void,"
and that "[m]arriage between persons of the same sex is against the
[state's] public policy" were introduced to the legislature on a yearly basis between 1996 and 2000. All have failed to advance.
According to Lambda Legal, a gay civil rights
"The words 'husband,' 'wife,' 'spouse,' or some form of the word
'marry' appear in more than 850 separate provisions of New Jersey law.
Beyond legal rights and responsibilities, marriage is an enormous part of
day-to-day life and is the most common way that couples prove their enduring
commitment to each other." 2
However, according to a 2006-OCT statement by the
Family Research Council,
a Fundamentalist Christian advocacy group, New Jersey does not have a law that clearly and specifically states
that marriage in the state is restricted to only one man and one woman.
2001: Background case: an application for a name change:
Jill Bacharach applied to the courts to change her last name to
Bacharach-Bordman, thus assuming "the name of her life-partner as part
of her own." The trial judge refused permission, ruling that such a
change in name would appear to sanction homosexual marriage. Concerned
Women for America filed a brief opposing the plaintiff's petition.
However, the appeals court reversed the judge's decision on 2001-AUG-2.
They ruled that people are free to change their names "so long as the
adopted name is not used for a criminal or fraudulent purpose." 4
2002: Launching the Lewis et. al. v. Harris et. al. lawsuit:
Marcye and Karen Nicholson-McFadden, four other lesbian couples, and
two gay couples from seven different New Jersey counties applied for
marriage licenses in seven different state offices over the interval from
2002-JUN-14 to 18. The couples have all been in long-term committed, loving
relationships for 1 to 3 decades. As expected, they were all refused
licenses. They then sued the Commissioner of the state Department of
Human Services, the Commissioner of the Department of Health and
Senior Services, and the Acting State Registrar of Vital Statistics
. These are the three governmental entities involved in the issuing of marriage licenses and the
registering of marriages. The Lambda
Legal Foundation submitted the suit in Superior Court in Hudson
County on 2002-JUN-26 as Docket #L-00-4233-02. 5 They asked the
state to expand the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex
couples. They listed two claims, arguing on the basis of privacy and equal
protection guarantees in the state constitution:
||The state's denial of access to marriage by the plaintiffs violates
"...the deeply personal privacy interests protected vigorously for
all New Jerseyans by the New Jersey Constitution of 1947."
||Also violated is "The right to equal protection of the laws under
the State Constitution...[which] prohibits the [current] discriminatory
The complaint listed some of the "harms that Plaintiffs suffer from
the State's exclusion of them from marriage." Included were:
"the denial of protections relating to the incapacitation or death
of a spouse, denial of support for family finances, denial of other public
and private safety nets, and denial of the responsibilities imposed on
married partners to each other and to third parties."
The goal of the court case was to allow loving, committed same-sex couples to
be be married within the
the same way that opposite-sex couples have always been permitted. The couples
would benefit "from a
broad array of statutory protections, benefits and mutual
The terms "husband," "wife," "spouse"
"marriage," "marry," and similar terms appear in 850
provisions in New Jersey's statutes. The state
would then have a marital system in place like the Netherlands,
Spain and the state of
The term "gay marriage" is often referred to in the media. We prefer the term
"same-sex marriage: or SSM because some same-sex couples are composed of two
bisexuals or one bisexual and one homosexual.
If SSM were declared legal, there is a significant chance that courts would
decide that other states would then have to recognize their marriages. Couples
might come to New Jersey, get married, return to their home states and launch
court cases to force the latter state to recognize their marriages.
The couples were
assisted by the National Organization for Women and the
American Civil Liberties Union. 6 Their supporters
New Jersey have connected with hundreds of pastors and rabbis around the
state, collecting 145 signatures from Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist,
Presbyterian, and Jewish clergy on a resolution of support. Several of
those same clergy agreed to raise the issue from their pulpits, although
there is division on the issue among Protestant sects and branches of
Judaism. The New Jersey chapter of the National Organization for
Women is helping out as well. The group's president, Elizabeth Volz, sent
a letter to Governor McGreevey this summer , asking him to stand by
the court ruling, whatever it may be. In the next few months, NOW plans to
hammer home the point in its newsletter, encouraging members to join the
'public conversation' and familiarize their neighbors and co-workers with
the issue....Catholic and Mormon church leaders, as well as
traditional-family groups, led rallies and prayer vigils outside the
statehouse, circulated petitions declaring the sanctity of traditional
marriage, and ran full-page newspaper ads slamming legislators who
indicated support for civil unions. 'Marriage is a sacrament,' Vermont's
Catholic bishop, Kenneth Angell, said at the time. 'It is a holy state of
life. It is something that we have to defend.' " 5
The term "traditional marriage" is used by social and religious conservatives
to refer to the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage.
Since the case is based solely on state law, the New Jersey Supreme Court
has the final word. The case stops there and cannot be appealed to
the U.S. Supreme Court. 1 This similar to a lawsuit in
Vermont that resulted in the creation of a
parallel system of civil unions which are identical to marriage in terms of licensing, registration, divorce, and
state marital benefits
Lambda amended their complaint on 2002-OCT-10. 7
Reactions by conservative Christians:
Many gays, lesbians, bisexuals and some others view the present
marriage act in New Jersey as giving special rights to heterosexuals and
discriminating against same-sex couples. They feel that marrying the
person that you love is a fundamental human right.
However, some conservative Christian individuals and groups view SSM
differently -- that:
||The sole purpose of marriage is to have children.
||That children need two parents of different genders for proper
development; if they are
brought up by two same-sex parents, the children are harmed for life.
||Expanding marriage to include same-sex couples would attack and
damage existing heterosexual marriages, and the institution of marriage
According to the Fundamentalist Christian group, Focus on the Family:
||Matt Daniels, is spokesperson for the Alliance for Marriage
in Washington, D.C. He said:
"Our laws defining marriage as a union of male and female were
not invented to be mean to gays. They were invented to be a blessing to
children, because children need a mom and a dad. This is not just about
New Jersey or Massachusetts or Alaska or Hawaii. They are trying to get
footholds at the state level from which to launch a national attack on
||Glenn Stanton, is a marriage research expert with Focus on the Family.
He said that homosexual activists:
"... just keep coming at us. They're just going to keep gambling
in the courts until they get what they're looking for. Rather than just
rights for individuals, they are seeking societal change. They're
looking to overthrow the way things have been."
For detailed information:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"New Jersey," Lambda Legal, at:
"Lower-Court Loss in Lawsuit Seeking Marriage for Same-Sex
Couples in New Jersey 'Propels Us Forward' To Higher Courts Where Case
Will Be Decided, Lambda Legal Says," Lambda Legal, 2003-NOV-05, at:
Tony Perkins, "Court Makes Legislature Their
Henchmen," Washington Update, Family Research Council, 2006-OCT-25.
Thomas L. Jipping, "Homosexual assault on marriage," The
Society for the Unenlightened, at:
Ruth Padawer, "Battle for gay marriage," Gay PASG,
Stuart Shepard, "N.J. lawsuit advances homosexual marriage idea,"
Focus on the Family, at:
The text of the amended complaint of 2002-OCT-8 is online at:
Copyright © 2002 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-JUL-2
Latest update: 2006-OCT-29
Author: B.A. Robinson