Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Gay marriage in New Jersey?

Not quite marriage, no. But New Jersey's Supreme Court has ruled that gay couples have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.

In a ruling that fell short of what either side wanted or feared, the state Supreme Court declared 4-3 that homosexual couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual ones. The justices gave lawmakers 180 days to rewrite the laws.

Here's a nice Q&A on the case.

The justices stopped short of recognizing a right to same-sex marriage, but they concluded -- logically enough -- that benefits made available to straight couples have to be made available to gay couples, too.

And that 4-3 vote? Not what you might think. The three dissenters argued that the court didn't go far enough. They wanted the court to recognize gay marriage as a right.

So now the state Legislature has 180 days to legalize either gay marriage or civil unions. Meanwhile, state Republicans said they would try to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions. And one, Assemblyman Richard Merkt, said he would try to have all seven justices impeached. What a charmer.

The score so far? Massachusetts allows gay marriage; Vermont and Connecticut allow civil unions. 16 states have amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage, and eight more are considering doing so.

This patchwork will create some interesting situations going forward. The continued existence of same-sex union states will belie the "sky is falling" rhetoric used to oppose it. A growing number of marriages recognized in one state but not another -- and the injustices caused by that -- will put pressure on states to adopt a uniform treatment.

Most promising, civil unions likely will spread as a reasonable compromise, hindered a bit by overly broad constitutional amendments passed too quickly and carelessly. And that may help nudge the nation toward the one solution that could be acceptable to all: getting the government out of the marriage business. The law would then become civil unions for everyone, marriage for those who want it.

Which, by the way, is a near-perfect example of how keeping the government out of religion ends up being the best guarantor of religious liberty. The government can provide legal and tax benefits based on objective criteria, serving its secular purpose. And marriage, its direct connection to those benefits severed, can be freely bestowed or withheld by each church as it sees fit.

I truly believe that in 20 years, people will wonder what all the fuss was about.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Not Your Mama said...

You just said exactly what I've been thinking, ALL of us can adopt civil unions.

If "marraige" is a religious institution then my husband and I would like to opt out and have a civil union. Religion has no place determining legislation.

10/26/2006 6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your analysis is perfect. Thank you.

10/27/2006 9:49 AM  

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