What Does New Jersey’s Marriage Defeat Mean? Screw the Legislature. It’s Time to Take to the Courts

Sure, New Jersey’s gays are pretty devastated over yesterday’s nail-in-the-coffin vote from state senators, which killed any chance of marriage equality coming to the Garden State via vote. But did you know that Jersey’s legislature fail is actually a WIN for trying to secure marriage in the courts?

It’s sort of a hefty argument, but we see where columnist Charles Stile is coming from. By failing to get the bill passed, New Jersey wasn’t sending the message that gays deserve to be treated unfairly; it sent the message that the strategy of securing individual votes from state lawmakers is, most often, destined to fail.

But that’s another way of saying the fix needs fixing. Or put another way, gay couples continue to face discrimination despite the civil union law, which was supposed to confer the same legal rights and benefits on gay couples that heterosexual couples get through a civil marriage.

The 2006 court decision, which led to the civil union law, punted on the question of marriage and said it was for the Legislature to decide.

Well, the Democratic process has, for all intents and purposes, run its course. That makes the tally sheet of Thursday’s vote an important document: It puts a final stamp on a legislative process that failed to comply with the court order. Gay marriage advocates believe the court will be more likely to answer the question of “marriage” instead of deferring to the Legislature.

“Along the way, a lot of folks asked, well if there is a shot that you might lose, why would you call for a vote today?” said Steven Goldstein, director of Garden State Equality, the chief group lobbying for the bill. “The answer is … that there is conclusive proof that the legislative process has been exhausted. And the Legislature failed its state constitutional duty to provide equal protection under the law.”

Another round in the court is an uncertain trek, but it’s clear that the Legislature is no longer an option. The new Legislature, which is seated next Tuesday, is not likely to take up the cause knowing that Republican Governor-elect Chris Christie has vowed to veto the measure.

Stile might as well be talking about all state legislatures here.

Worth pointing out: Almost without fail, the legislative strategy has been the favored one by Gay Inc. groups and state-based equality organizations. This methodology worked in Vermont and New Hampshire; it almost worked in Maine. Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts all owe their victories to the courts. What state legislatures have been skilled at doing, meanwhile, is passing laws that explicitly ban gay marriage. That’s not exactly how we want things to keep going.

Then if we’re going to start relying on the courts to secure freedoms from discrimination, how fun, then, that the federal Prop 8 trial Perry v. Schwarzenegger kicks off Monday. And not a moment too soon.

(Pictured: New Jersey State Sen. Nia Gill, who is The Awesome)