The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey this morning praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), allowing for thousands of married same-sex couples to qualify for federal benefits afforded to married opposite-sex couples.
The plaintiff in the case, Edie Windsor, is represented by the ACLU.
The ACLU is now calling on the state of New Jersey to extend equal rights to same-sex couples. Same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey remain ineligible for the hundreds of benefits that now will be granted to same-sex married couples in other states under the court’s decision. In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the ACLU-NJ and Garden State Equality have launched a new campaign to bring marriage equality to New Jersey.
“Given the Supreme Court’s ruling to strike down DOMA, New Jersey is now ground zero for the next big battle for marriage equality,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. “Our state can no longer hide behind the federal government to justify its own discrimination. New Jersey needs to make a choice: will we continue a separate and unequal civil union system, or will we seize this opportunity to extend equal rights to New Jersey’s same-sex couples?”
Ofer said the choice is clear, and that New Jersey should enshrine the Supreme Court’s decision into state’s law and end discrimination against LGBT couples who wish to marry.
“Today’s decision will go down as a dividing line between an era of intolerance and a future of equality for gay and lesbian Americans,” he said. “The roughly 130,000 same-sex couples in marriages across America, who have promised to take care of each other in sickness and in health, now have a promise from their government to respect the most important relationship of their lives. The nation’s highest court ruled once and for all that the government cannot treat a committed married couple as if they were strangers.”
Ofer said until New Jersey recognizes that separate civil unions cannot be equal to marriages, Edie Windsor’s victory will be bittersweet.
“New Jerseyans shouldn’t have to cross state lines to receive the equal treatment they deserve,” he said. “Our fight will not be over until New Jersey implements the principles of the Supreme Court’s decision and ensures that discrimination against LGBT couples does not have a place in our free and democratic society.”
“There is no longer any excuse to delay,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality. “The state must rectify the discrimination taking place within our borders immediately. It is immoral as it is impractical to force any New Jersey family to be stripped of critical economic and legal protections every time they cross the Hudson or Delaware Rivers to return home from our closest neighboring states…With today’s decisions by the Court, it’s become more clear than ever that not only are LGBT people treated as second-class citizens in New Jersey, but that New Jersey itself risks becoming a second-class state to its neighbors, where all people will be treated equally at all levels of government.”