In terms of the value they place on family, career, and community service, plaintiffs lead lives that are remarkably similar to those of opposite-sex couples. Alicia Toby and Saundra Heath, who reside in Newark, have lived together for seventeen years and have children and grandchildren. Alicia is an ordained minister in a church where her pastoral duties include coordinating her church’s HIV prevention program. Saundra works as a dispatcher for Federal Express.
Mark Lewis and Dennis Winslow reside in Union City and have been together for fourteen years. They both are pastors in the Episcopal Church. In their ministerial capacities, they have officiated at numerous weddings and signed marriage certificates, though their own relationship cannot be similarly sanctified under New Jersey law. When Dennis’s father was suffering from a serious long-term illness, Mark helped care for him in their home as would a devoted son-in-law.
Diane Marini and Marilyn Maneely were committed partners for fourteen years until Marilyn’s death in 2005. The couple lived in Haddonfield, where Diane helped raise, as though they were her own, Marilyn’s five children from an earlier marriage. Diane’s mother considered Marilyn her daughter-in-law and Marilyn’s children her grandchildren. The daily routine of their lives mirrored those of “other suburban married couples [their] age.” Marilyn was a registered nurse. Diane is a businesswoman who serves on the planning board in Haddonfield, where she is otherwise active in community affairs.
. . .The seeming ordinariness of plaintiffs’ lives is belied by the social indignities and economic difficulties that they daily face due to the inferior legal standing of their relationships compared to that of married couples. Without the benefits of marriage, some plaintiffs have had to endure the expensive and time-consuming process of cross-adopting each other’s children and effectuating legal surname changes. Other plaintiffs have had to contend with economic disadvantages, such as paying excessive health insurance premiums because employers did not have to provide coverage to domestic partners, not having a right to “family leave” time, and suffering adverse inheritance tax consequences.
When some plaintiffs have been hospitalized, medical facilities have denied privileges to their partners customarily extended to family members. For example, when Cindy Meneghin contracted meningitis, the hospital’s medical staff at first ignored her pleas to allow her partner Maureen to accompany her to the emergency room. After Marcye Nicholson-McFadden gave birth to a son, a hospital nurse challenged the right of her partner Karen to be present in the newborn nursery to view their child. When Diane Marini received treatment for breast cancer, medical staff withheld information from her partner Marilyn “that would never be withheld from a spouse or even a more distant relative.” Finally, plaintiffs recount the indignities, embarrassment, and anguish that they as well as their children have suffered in attempting to explain their family status.
The option of course remains for the state of New Jersey to amend their Constitution (via ACSBlog) to explicitly deny gays the rights of marriage:
The short of it is that it takes either (1) a 3/5 vote in each of the state houses, followed by a majority vote of the people, or (2) a majority vote of both houses in two consecutive legislative years, followed by a majority vote of the people. In other words, New Jersey is in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to the ease or difficulty of amending the state constitution. Harder than some, easier than others.
As you may recall, Texas has already passed just such an amendment.
Of course, there are still those who persist in seeing the issue of gay marriage as one to be dealt with by the legislature, and not by the courts. This is wrong-headed. First, it is not possible to believe that the Supreme Court has consistently upheld the right of people to marry, and yet argue that, as far as gays are concerned, there is no "right" to marriage. People who read Supreme Court opinions closely will aruge that the right of heterosexuals to marry is "fundamental", whereas the right of gays to marry has been non-existent throughout history. This is a distinction without a difference. As restrictive cultural beliefs have become dated, so the Court has struck down restrictions of marriage premised on those beliefs. Second, where fundamental rights exist, it is the job-no, the duty-of the courts to uphold them. That the upholding of a right is controversial, that the upholding of a right is something that a majority of people would prefer not to see, does not mean that it is a right that should be created and enforced solely by statute, at the whim of a hostile majority that controls the levers of power.
The people of New Jersey would be sorely mistaken to adopt a disciminatory amendment that bans gay marriage and undos the progress of this decision. Gay marriage-or civil unions-have existed in several states and many countries for several years now, and civilization persists. Constitutions, of the state or the United States, do not exist to limit rights. They exist to confer them, and this decision comports with the general trend towards the legalization of gay marriage in our country. I support it, and you should too.