Legislation in Progress To Codify N.J. Right to Same Sex Marriage

, New Jersey Law Journal

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Sen. Raymond Lesniak

Lustberg says the provision embodies the outcome of another case he handled: a lesbian couple’s challenge to the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association’s refusal to allow them to exchange civil-union vows at its oceanfront pavilion.

The case ended in 2012, when an administrative law judge found that the First Amendment did not shield the decision by the Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist group, to deny use of the pavilion to Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster.

The association rented the space to the public and never declined a request, other than for scheduling conflicts. The pavilion was thus a public accommodation, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination applied.

Lustberg, of the Gibbons firm in Newark, represented Bernstein and Paster on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

Lesniak says the public accommodation provision makes S-3109 a more protective bill than S-1, the one Christie vetoed, and might garner added support for being more than an attempt to just override the veto.

In refusing to sign S-1, Christie stated that New Jersey’s constitution contains no right to same-sex marriage and would have to be amended, adding that the importance of the issue called for a popular vote.

He also claimed that New Jersey’s civil-union law was effective because the state received far fewer discrimination complaints about civil unions than about race, age or gender, and he thought a civil-union ombudsman would suffice.

The Garden State Equality case was decided on Sept. 27 of this year.

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that starting on Oct. 21, New Jersey must permit same-sex marriages because partners in civil unions were being denied federal benefits in violation of the state Constitution.

Jacobson’s ruling was based on Lewis v. Harris, where the New Jersey Supreme Court held in 2006 that same-sex couples must be treated the same as heterosexual ones, but gave the Legislature the option of doing so through civil unions or marriage.

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