Perhaps that long journey is now nearing its end. Today the Plaintiffs in Garden State Equality v. Dow, through their attorneys Larry Lustberg (Gibbons PC) and Hayley Gorenberg (Lambda Legal Defense), have submitted their Motion for Summary Judgment to the Mercer Superior Court. Judge Mary Jacobson had previously ordered that the Defendants (the State) must file its opposition by August 2, Plaintiffs must file a reply by August 9, and oral arguments shall be held on August 15.
A call for Summary Judgment typically is a request for a decision by a court based upon oral arguments without a full trial where no material facts are in dispute. The Plaintiff’s filing this afternoon states, “After the Supreme Court’s decision last week in United States v. Windsor invalidating Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage (DOMA) a trial in this matter is no longer necessary. Under Windsor married same-sex couples in states that respect their marriages are eligible for the complete, vast array of federal rights, benefits and obligations. But for Plaintiffs and other same-sex couples in New Jersey who may access only civil union, full federal benefits are not available… The result is the clearest possible violation of Lewis v. Harris and of the New Jersey constitutional guarantee upon which it rests: by relegating same-sex couples in New Jersey to civil union, the State denies them equal rights and benefits. After Windsor no material disputed facts require resolution to rule in Plaintiffs’ favor.”
As we now enter the Summary Judgment phase, two of the case’s Plaintiffs – Marsha Shapiro and Louise Walpin – reflect on their roller coaster past and hopes for the future. They have been tossed and turned through the Lewis v. Harris case, efforts to prove civil unions are unfair and unequal, the legislature’s passage of Marriage Equality followed by Governor Christie’s veto, and then the demise of DOMA and Prop 8. For them the U. S. Supreme Court decisions were bitter sweet – happy that as a result others have gained their rights and benefits but unhappy those rights and benefits are still denied to people in New Jersey. Each time they reach halfway through the Lincoln Tunnel into New York, where they were married in 2012, they feel exhilarated, only to later return to New Jersey where they are second class citizens.
For Marsha and Louise, the Summary Judgment is an open and shut case. With DOMA struck down NJ “must respect the fact that marriage is the only answer and that civil unions are separate and not equal.” In 2006 in Lewis v. Harris, New Jersey’s highest court ruled that gay couples are entitled to the same legal rights and financial benefits as heterosexual couples. However four justices said that lawmakers should decide whether to call the arrangement a marriage, civil union or something else, while three dissenters said the State Constitution demanded that gay couples be allowed to wed. The legislature rapidly adopted Civil Unions not marriage.
Any decision of the court is subject to appeal, so the journey will not likely end with Judge Jacobson’s ruling, but a final higher court judgment could arrive soon thereafter. Marsha and Louise believe that the quickest route is through the current court filing. They have no strong preference between a favorable court ruling and a legislative over-ride. They say, “There are many roads to justice. We will take whichever one we can get.”