Gay Couples Fight for Marriage Rights in NJ

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    Six gay couples and their children on Wednesday asked a New Jersey judge to force the state to recognize gay marriage, arguing that the case has become more urgent after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week.

    The plaintiffs say the case is now so pressing that no trial is needed to weigh the arguments that the civil unions now recognized in the state fall short.

    "The New Jersey statutory scheme shows itself to be unjustifiable discrimination,'' their lawyers said in the motion.

    The filing is no surprise as the ruling to strike down key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last week brought new intensity and urgency to both legal and political action over gay marriage in New Jersey, one of a handful of states that extend the rights that go with marriage to gay couples but stop short of recognizing their nuptials.

    The state Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that committed gay couples are entitled to "all the rights and benefits that married heterosexual couples enjoy,'' but the ruling didn't require recognition of gay marriage. Lawmakers responded by creating civil unions.

    The couples sued in 2011, saying civil unions are poorly misunderstood and fail to produce those equal rights. The case was at least months away from trial but lawyers for the plaintiffs say the Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Windsor changes the situation because it requires the federal government to deliver benefits of marriage _ from joint tax filing to next-of-kin notification for members of the military _ to married gay couples.

    The lawyers for the New Jersey group say the ruling "made clear that those who are not married, including those consigned instead to civil unions, are not entitled to the federal rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities that the Windsor decision extends to those who are married.''

    That, lawyers Lawrence Lustberg and Hayley Gorenberg say, means that the state is blocking gay couples from equal benefits that the state's top court had said they were entitled to.

    The state Attorney General's Office declined to comment Wednesday on the filing. The state's response is due Aug. 2 and arguments are scheduled for Aug. 15.

    Gay marriage was already on the political agenda this week before Wednesday's filing.

    State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, called on Gov. Chris Christie to free legislative Republicans to vote their conscience on an override vote of the governor's veto last year of a bill that would allow gay marriage.

    Republicans fired back that Sweeney himself missed the opportunity to get a similar bill passed in 2010 when he was among a group of Democratic state senators who abstained on the bill. And Christie has called the notion that lawmakers are not free to vote as they like "insulting.''

    In a statement Wednesday, Sweeney called that abstention ``the biggest mistake of my career'' and urged Christie to reverse course.
     

     


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