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Lambda Legal back to court representing Garden State Equality, seven same-sex couples in NJ

News release from Lambda Legal:

(Trenton, June 29, 2011) —Today Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit seeking marriage equality on behalf of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, and seven same-sex couples and their children harmed from the unequal civil union system.

The case combines both state and federal claims. It argues that the civil union law violates both the New Jersey Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution.

"The constitutional guarantee of equality under the law does not stop midway through the Lincoln Tunnel," said Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director. "Our clients have been kept from each other during medical crises, denied health insurance, and even discriminated against in funeral homes because their civil unions relegate them to second-class status.  New Jersey’s same-sex couples have been stuck in a limbo caused by the confusion and indignity of living with an inferior status."

"By now, everybody in New Jersey knows that civil unions don’t work," said Steven Goldstein, Chair and CEO of Garden State Equality.  "Since civil unions became law in New Jersey, Garden State Equality has received reports from multitudes of civil union couples who have told us their employers refuse to provide the equal rights and benefits the civil union law mandates. It’s time for the courts to fix this mess and give full marriage equality to New Jersey’s same-sex couples and their children."

In court papers filed today, Lambda Legal addressed how New Jersey’s civil unions fall short. Civil unions place same-sex couples in an inferior status to different-sex couples. Without full marriage equality, same-sex couples are denied workplace benefits and protections equal to those accorded to married people, and they are blocked from seeing their loved ones during medical emergencies.  The exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage deprives them and their children of  their dignity as a family and certainty in their legal rights and status to each other.

Plaintiffs:
Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, with more than 82,000 members is an organizational plaintiff in the case. The plaintiff couples include:  Daniel Weiss, 46, and John Grant, 46, of Asbury Park, who have been together for four years and were married in Connecticut in 2010 after John was hit by a car, shattering his skull, and hospital administrators failed to understand their civil union; Marsha Shapiro, 56, and Louise Walpin, 57, of Monmouth Junction, who have been together for 22 years and raised four children; Cindy Meneghin, 53, and Maureen Kilian, 53, of Butler, who were high school sweethearts and have been together for 36 years, raising two children; Tevonda and Erica Bradshaw, both 36, of North Plainfield, who have an infant son and have been together for more than four years; Marcye and Karen Nicholson-McFadden, 47 and 45 respectively, of Aberdeen, who have been together for 21 years and have two children; Keith Heimann, 53, and Tom Davidson, 49, of Shrewsbury, who will celebrate their 25th anniversary together in January, and have two daughters; Elena and Liz Quinones, 33 and 45 respectively, of Phillipsburg, who are raising four children and have been together for nine years.

Meet all the plaintiffs and their families: www.lambdalegal.org/nj-marriage

Background:
In 2002, Lambda Legal filed a historic case, Lewis v. Harris seeking marriage equality on behalf of seven New Jersey couples. The case reached the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2006. The high court ruled unanimously that same-sex couples must be provided all the benefits and responsibilities of marriage, although it declined to mandate that marriage was specifically required, and gave the state legislature 180 days to provide equality. The legislature hastily passed a civil union law in December 2006, and began issuing civil union licenses to lesbian and gay couples in February 2007.

In December 2008 the Civil Union Review Commission, appointed by the legislature pursuant to the Civil Union Act itself, issued its unanimous report documenting how civil unions fall short of providing the court-mandated equality for same-sex couples. In January 2010, days before the legislative session ended, the New Jersey Senate voted on and failed to pass a marriage equality law. On March 18, 2010, Lambda Legal filed a motion in aid of litigants' rights asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to intercede and order marriage to secure compliance with its original mandate of equality for the Lewis v. Harris plaintiffs, but in July 2010, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied the motion, requiring further proceedings to develop a record in Superior Court.

The case is Garden State Equality, et al. v. Dow, et al.

To read the complaint filed today visit: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/gse_nj_20110629_complaint-for-declaratory-and-injunctive-relief.html

Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director, is handling this case for Lambda Legal. She is joined by co-counsel Lawrence S. Lustberg and Eileen Conner of Gibbons, PC.

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