New Jersey Appellate Court Upholds Marriage Laws

A New Jersey Appellate Court upheld the state’s definition of marriage between a man and a woman on Tuesday, ruling that the New Jersey constitution does not require recognition of same-sex marriages.

A state appeals panel voted 2-1 against a case presented by seven same-sex couples who sought the right to marry. The majority opinion upheld the state’s marriage laws against arguments that the laws violate the equal protection of rights.

The court opinion stated that "the right to marry has always been understood in law and tradition to apply only to couples of different genders. A change in that basic understanding would not lift a restriction on the right, but would work a fundamental transformation of marriage into an arrangement that could never have been within the intent of the Framers of the 1947 Constitution."

The court opinion concluded that “absent legislative action, there is no basis for construing the New Jersey Constitution to compel the State to authorize marriages between members of the same sex.”

A concurring opinion written by Judge Anthony J. Parrillo emphasized that decisions on gay marriage should be determined by the legislature, not by the court.

“Any societal judgment to level the playing field must appreciate the proper divide between judicial and legislative activity,” said Parrillo. “It is, therefore, a proper role for the legislature to weigh the societal costs against the societal benefits flowing from a profound change in the public meaning of marriage.”

Appellate Judge Donald G. Collester dissented to the majority opinion, stating that “if marriage by definition excludes plaintiffs from marrying persons of their choosing, then, unlike all others, they have no fundamental or constitutionally protected right and must seek creation of that right through the political process and a legislative redefinition of marriage.”

Banning same-sex marriage, Collester continued, “deprives [same-sex couples] of the same rights of marriage enjoyed by the other individuals of this State, even those confined in State prisons.”

Collester’s dissent, as well as plans by gay-rights groups to appeal the decision, make it likely that the case will go before the state Supreme Court.

Pro-family groups, meanwhile, applauded the court decision as a victory.

Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, said, “We are thrilled that another appellate court has recognized the fundamental importance of marriage as a building block of our society.”

Challenges to traditional marriage still exist, however. Staver emphasized that “the only way to truly protect marriage is through adoption of state and federal marriage amendments that protect the name and rights of marriage.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins echoed Staver’s statement, saying in response to the news that “this decision strengthens the legal battle against same-sex marriage but the need for a federal marriage amendment is still very much valid.”