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TRENTON, New Jersey (CNN) -- In a decision likely to stoke the contentious election-year debate over same-sex marriage, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that state lawmakers must provide the rights and benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.

The high court on Wednesday gave legislators six months to either change state marriage laws to include same-sex couples, or come up with another mechanism, such as civil unions, that would provide the same protections and benefits.

The court's vote was 4-to-3. But the ruling was more strongly in favor of same-sex marriage than that split would indicate. The three dissenting justices argued the court should have extended full marriage rights to homosexuals, without kicking the issue back to legislators.

Advocates of same-sex marriage hailed the decision, a respite from many defeats this year in courts nationwide.

"That is wonderful news," said Cindy Meneghin, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit by seven same-sex couples that prompted Wednesday's decision. "We can only hope that that means marriage, because that is the only way they can give us full equality." (Watch a couple say why they want to call their 32-year relationship marriage -- 2:01 Video)

Garden State Equality, a gay rights group, announced that three state legislators plan to introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. In an e-mail to supporters, the chairman of the group, Steven Goldstein, vowed that only "over our dead bodies will we settle for less than 100 percent marriage equality."

Gay marriage opponents promise to fight

Those angered by the ruling predicted it will reinvigorate the fight in Congress for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage nationwide.

"They took the future of marriage out of the hands of the people of New Jersey," said Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage, which supports the amendment. "They are holding a gun to the head of the legislature of New Jersey and saying pick between two bullets -- one that allows civil unions and one that allows marriage."

Sen. Sam Brownback a leading social conservative in Congress, said the New Jersey decision "warrants swift, decisive action by Congress in the form of passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment."

"Huge social changes should be decided by the people and their elected representatives and should not be forced by the courts," the Kansas Republican said in a written statement.

The federal amendment, which President Bush supports, has stalled in Congress. It has so far failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote to be submitted to the states for ratification.

Opponents of same-sex marriage contend the New Jersey decision could have a national impact because the state imposes no residency requirements for people seeking marriage. In essence, it could open the door for gay and lesbian couples from other states to marry in New Jersey and challenge laws against same-sex marriage in their own states.

The gay marriage debate intensified in 2004 when Massachusetts became the first and only state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. The state does not allow nonresidents to marry there, however.

Precedent in Vermont

The decision mirrors the one made in 1999 by Vermont's highest court, which prompted its legislature to create civil unions for same-sex couples, with the same rights and benefits enjoyed by heterosexuals. (Opinion -- pdfexternal link)

The New Jersey high court held that state laws prohibiting gay and lesbian couples from receiving the "financial and social benefits and privileges" of marriage violate the equal protection clause of the New Jersey Constitution and served no "legitimate governmental purpose."

Noting that New Jersey already prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, the high court said there was "no rational basis for giving gays and lesbians full civil rights as individuals while, on the other hand, giving them an incomplete set of rights when they enter into committed same-sex relationships."

The justices wrote: "The issue is not about the transformation of the traditional definition of marriage, but about the unequal dispensation of benefits and privileges to one of two similarly situated classes of people."

However, they stopped short of finding that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry.

The ruling said the court would not "speculate" on whether legislation creating civil unions identical to marriage would pass constitutional muster "and will not presume that a difference in name is of constitutional magnitude."

The justices also held that the state's domestic partnership law for same-sex couples, passed in 2004, is not an adequate substitute for marriage rights because it provides gay and lesbians with fewer benefits and rights and has more stringent requirements for establishing partnerships than for marrying.

A hot button election topic

The issue of gay marriage has roiled American politics for more than a decade and on November 7 voters in eight states will decide whether to amend their constitutions to ban gay and lesbian couples from marrying.

Same-sex marriage advocates have suffered five high-profile court losses since July, including decisions in the high courts of New York and Washington state upholding state laws prohibiting marriage for gay or lesbian couples.

State supreme courts in Nebraska and Georgia also upheld constitutional amendments outlawing same-sex marriage that had been struck down by lower courts.

And earlier this month, an appellate court in California upheld the constitutionality of state laws against same-sex marriage, a decision now being appealed to the California Supreme Court.

The court said the state's existing Domestic Partnership Act, similar to one adopted in several other states, including California, doesn't go far enough in protecting the rights of gay couples.

Episcopal pastors Mark Harris and Denis Winslow, plaintiffs in the New Jersey suit, now have one dream to fulfill: to join the countless heterosexual couples they've married.

"We see it as a civil right that we're denied," Winslow said. "Even though we pay first-class taxes, we are treated as second-class citizens.

"We don't have that freedom to exercise our relationship in a practical way, dare I say, spiritual way."

Go Jersey!

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My country has had gay marriage, for like what, a year... and we haven't burned in the fires of hell yet... it's kinda chilly up here actually.

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With so many steps back recently in other states, this is a glimmer of hope for a lot of people.

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I am amazed that we have come this far, this soon. I remember when I was in highschool and Anita Bryant came up to (London, Ontario, I think) to make a speech and gay groups were going down by the busload to protest her. She was telling people how sick we were and we should be fired from jobs, etc.

WE'VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY.

At 15, I could never have dreamed of LEGALLY being able to marry my partner. I do agree: it is inevitable. If you listen to highschool kids of today, their outlooks and opinions are vastly different than my generations. (God, I feel old!) Once the old coots in Congress are all dead, things will change quicker.

In "enlightened" Canada, the last battle ground is whether the Churches should be protected from being forced to perform same-sex marriages or not. Already there has been a few cases where civil servants, paid for by our tax dollars, have been allowed to decline to marry a gay/lesbian couple.

Being an atheist, I could care less, but I do believe gay organizations are being less than honest when they sidestep this issue. Of course some militant couple will take this issue to the Supreme Court, too - eventually.

I am thrilled at how far we have come, but then IMO marriage is a failed institution anyway.

To quote Andrew McCarthy from the movie St. Elmo's Fire: "The concept of two people spending their lives together is a myth created in a time when you were lucky to live past the age of 30 for being eaten by a dinosaur!" (I hope that is right: it has been about 5 years since I've seen that amazing movie.)

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I heard about this while watching Good Morning America today......big yay!!!

I wonder when VA will come around

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For those uninitiated, I am heterosexual, and I am a Christian.

I'm not of the belief that all homosexuals are going to Hell. Additionally, I understand that if you're not attracted to the opposite sex, that is a matter of biology, not choice.

I also feel that if two members of the same sex truly love each other, they should be allowed under the laws of the State to have the same rights as a heterosexual married couple.

Be glad that your rights have made it this far, as few Christian churches will officially recognize "gay marriage" without serious reinterpretation of certain Bible verses.

And on that note, a quick Google Search brought me to this site: http://www.libchrist.com/other/homosexual/contents.html

Which then led me to this:

http://www.truthsetsfree.net/study.pdf

It may be of interest to Christians and Non-Christians alike. If you are gay and you have left Christianity due to condemnation, maybe this link can set you in the right direction. I glanced through it but have not read it yet. I am going to read into it later today, as a matter of curiosity.

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For those uninitiated, I am heterosexual, and I am a Christian.

I'm not of the belief that all homosexuals are going to Hell.  Additionally, I understand that if you're not attracted to the opposite sex, that is a matter of biology, not choice.

I also feel that if two members of the same sex truly love each other, they should be allowed under the laws of the State to have the same rights as a heterosexual married couple.

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First, I agree with all the above. but secondly, (and I'll get flamed) but my conviction here based upon what i believe is that the term 'marraige' is not a civil term. its a religion based term. the way I feel about this is let's allow civil unions for heterosexuals and homosexuals. But let's not confuse it with 'marraige'. We should wipe the term marraige from our legal terminology. I guess I am a fossil (and grew up catholic) but the purpose of marraige is not primarily for an end unto itself. Its not only for the recipricol pleasure of one person to another. it's for the creation of a family and a union with above. The purpose of love and affection for each other in a 'marraige' is to build a strong family bond into the creation of new people, having children, continuance of species. At this point you could diverge in many ways on whether that should be limited by biology on that idea or not. It would actually be good discussion, and each sector of each faith could choose to define the issue then based on that. So I am not saying what basis we should constitute a marraige in any denomination. But my belief is let's not apply the term of 'marraige' to a civil setting. I guess I just feel strong about how the terminology is applied.

OK, flame away. So then i ask, let's have polygamy too. Even if you should consider that a seaprate issue, why should our civil rights be restricted to union with one person? Sorry i disagree with the group here, but its my conviction. Its a difference in belief. Not any disrespect. I welcome challenging views. maybe you can change some of what i feel.

Edited by regfootball

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First, I agree with all the above.  but secondly, (and I'll get flamed) but my conviction here based upon what i believe is that the term 'marraige' is not a civil term.  its a religion based term.  the way I feel about this is let's allow civil unions for heterosexuals and homosexuals.  But let's not confuse it with 'marraige'.  We should wipe the term marraige from our legal terminology.  I guess I am a fossil (and grew up catholic) but the purpose of marraige is not primarily for an end unto itself.  Its not only for the recipricol pleasure of one person to another.  it's for the creation of a family and a union with above.  The purpose of love and affection for each other in a 'marraige' is to build a strong family bond into the creation of new people, having children, continuance of species.  At this point you could diverge in many ways on whether that should be limited by biology on that idea or not.  It would actually be good discussion, and each sector of each faith could choose to define the issue then based on that.  So I am not saying what basis we should constitute a marraige in any denomination.  But my belief is let's not apply the term of 'marraige' to a civil setting.  I guess I just feel strong about how the terminology is applied.

OK, flame away.  So then i ask, let's have polygamy too.  Even if you should consider that a seaprate issue, why should our civil rights be restricted to union with one person?  Sorry i disagree with the group here, but its my conviction.  Its a difference in belief.  Not any disrespect.  I welcome challenging views.  maybe you can change some of what i feel.

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As long as I have the same civil, legal rights as a heterosexual married couple, you can believe anything you want. I am still married in my heart and that's where it truly matters.

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and that's why I say I respect everyone's personal beliefs. i am even revisiting this constantly in my head and it can change over time. I don't have answers.

for me, a lot of it is how I grew up and the things I believe because of it. who knows what of any of it is 'right'.

My sister in law has told me I'm going to hell because my wedding wasn't in the 'proper church'. We have some friends that married at the courthouse, but then more or less got forced to redo it in the church or they were going to hell too.

So we all are in different places on this sort of stuff. Maybe the problem is the religious defintion of marraige.

Edited by regfootball

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I can understand the conflict between religious beliefs and much of what is happening in the modern world. We are seeing the throes of this in the Middle East where the status quo is being challenged and the old patriarchy is resisting this with every ounce of its being. (That is another topic!)

I also understand the deep feelings that gay relations or gay sexual relations bring to many people. As my mother said to me a long time ago: "Most of my friends can't handle their own sexual feelings, so how could they handle yours?"

I am of two minds about the nature versus nurture angle. Personally, if I could change tomorrow I wouldn't want to. Being gay has given me a unique perspective on the world and, paradoxically perhaps, shielded me from a lot of childhood crap that my sisters are going through now from our parents. If it proves to be biological, then will that get us sympathy or pity? If it is our "fault," then should be jailed, as once was the case? I don't have the answers, but I do know that there is much, much diversity in the world and we had all better learn to get along or we will all end up blowing ourselves to high hell!

And, reg, I respect your beliefs and am happy that you are at least willing to explore them and to keep an open mind about future developments. Too many people on both sides of this (and other) issues are too quick to make snap judgments and condemn the other!

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and that's a great post. Where I am at now with the religious component of this, I do believe that God/Jesus/whatever loves, not damns. Whatever persecutions we all bear relative to who we are is a factor of our imperfect sinful world. Nearly all of us, its our heart's desire to be good and perfect but we must bear the imperfection that does exist here. In the end we rise to some perfect world where we are loved all the same, and not judged on our earthly imperfections.

That is what and why i believe. We all need to believe in something.

I can understand the conflict between religious beliefs and much of what is happening in the modern world.  We are seeing the throes of this in the Middle East where the status quo is being challenged and the old patriarchy is resisting this with every ounce of its being.  (That is another topic!)

  I also understand the deep feelings that gay relations or gay sexual relations bring to many people.  As my mother said to me a long time ago: "Most of my friends can't handle their own sexual feelings, so how could they handle yours?"

  I am of two minds about the nature versus nurture angle.  Personally, if I could change tomorrow I wouldn't want to.  Being gay has given me a unique perspective on the world and, paradoxically perhaps, shielded me from a lot of childhood crap that my sisters are going through now from our parents.  If it proves to be biological, then will that get us sympathy or pity?  If it is our "fault," then should be jailed, as once was the case?  I don't have the answers, but I do know that there is much, much diversity in the world and we had all better learn to get along or we will all end up blowing ourselves to high hell!

  And, reg, I respect your beliefs and am happy that you are at least willing to explore them and to keep an open mind about future developments.  Too many people on both sides of this (and other) issues are too quick to make snap judgments and condemn the other!

209077[/snapback]

Edited by regfootball

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What a potential mess. OK, before any jumps on my case please read the full post.

I am talking about the New Jersey court, in effect, forcing the creation of legislation, not the marriage or civil unions of homosexual couples. With this ruling they have forced the legislature to create a law and that is not within their power. The courts are here to enforce and, if needed, interpet the law. The are not here to create new ones.

This battle in New Jersey may just get ugly with this ruling. The Congress may create a law with exactly the opposite results as retaliation. Think its not possible? Think again.

Sen. Sam Brownback a leading social conservative in Congress, said the New Jersey decision "warrants swift, decisive action by Congress in the form of passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment."

"Huge social changes should be decided by the people and their elected representatives and should not be forced by the courts," the Kansas Republican said in a written statement.

Sen Brownback's opinion may be a minority but NOONE likes being told what to do and our Congress is no exception.

As for my feelings on the issue itself. I am ambivilant about what to call the unions. I believe marriage is the union of a man and woman in the eyes of God. But, I see no logical reason, in our society today, to refuse to honor and respect the commitment that two loving consentual adults have made to each other, or to provide that couple with legal protections and benefits.

There does have to be a limit on how much we are willing to change the definitions though. And we have to be sure that we do not open this to horrendous abuse. I have heard of people wanting to remove the age of consent from our laws, or opening up the issue of polygamy again. I am NOT saying that those wanting this very basic right of marriage are for either of those ideas, just that the people for those ideas are waiting to see if they can use this issue for their own agenda.

For those of you hoping and praying for your love and rights to be honored, I wish you the best.

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What a potential mess. OK, before any jumps on my case please read the full post.

I am talking about the New Jersey court, in effect, forcing the creation of legislation, not the marriage or civil unions of homosexual couples. With this ruling they have forced the legislature to create a law and that is not within their power. The courts are here to enforce and, if needed, interpet the law. The are not here to create new ones.

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The Court gave the legislature the option of amending the current law <which is subject to the court's interpretation>, or provide an equal alternative.

The court found that the existing domestic partnerships law in NJ was a "back of the bus", "separate but not equal" law and therefor was unconstitutional. The legislature doesn't have to create any new legislations at all. Either they amend the existing marriage law to include homosexuals or they amend the existing domestic partnership law to be legally equal to the marriage law in everything but name.

The court is exactly within it's jurisdiction.

Edited by Oldsmoboi

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And what if the reaction is for the legislature to just remove the domestic partnership law from the books? That would also get rid of the unconstitutional law as well and the courts could do nothing about it.

The court should have stated that if the congress wanted to keep a law like this in the books that they needed to amend it or amend the marriage law.

Telling the legistlature that you must pass or amend a specific law or another one like it is outside of their jurisdiction. They have the responsibility to state whether or not the current law is constitutional or legal. They can then state that if there is to be a law like this it must fall within the framework of what is constitutional. The cannot order congress to amend the law.

This is a tricky area of the Separation of Powers Act that has been argued as long as its been on the books so I do not think that we are going to resolve it here. A lot of what you and I are disagreeing on here is based on interpretation and people who have studied this their entire careers can't agree.

BTW, what happens in 6 months if the legislature doesn't pass an amendment or the governor doesn't sign it?

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And what if the reaction is for the legislature to just remove the domestic partnership law from the books? That would also get rid of the unconstitutional law as well and the courts could do nothing about it.

The court should have stated that if the congress wanted to keep a law like this in the books that they needed to amend it or amend the marriage law.

Telling the legistlature that you must pass or amend a specific law or another one like it is outside of their jurisdiction. They have the responsibility to state whether or not  the current law is constitutional or legal. They can then state that if there is to be a law like this it must fall within the framework of what is constitutional. The cannot order congress to amend the law.

This is a tricky area of the Separation of Powers Act that has been argued as long as its been on the books so I do not think that we are going to resolve it here. A lot of what you and I are disagreeing on here is based on interpretation and people who have studied this their entire careers can't agree.

BTW, what happens in 6 months if the legislature doesn't pass an amendment or the governor doesn't sign it?

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What the court said was that there is no rational reason to restrict access to the civil legal protections of marriage to homosexual couples. The current marriage law is exclusionary. The domestic partnership law is inadaquate. So the court ordered the legislature to correct the inequality. Would you rather the court have struck down the existing marriage law entirely? Technically, they would be in their right to do so since they already found the law to be unconstitutional.

The Legislature has 4 options to correct the inequality:

1. Include homosexuals in the current marriage law.

2. Correct the domestic partnerships law to be equal to marriage law in everything but name.

3. Reduce the current marriage law to the same level as the current domestic partnership law. <highly unlikely>

4. Eliminate both the marriage law and domestic partnership law. <completely absurd>

As for not liking being told what to do, in cases of equality, when the majority is wrong, they're still wrong. George C. Wallace didn't like being told what to do either.

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I believe marriage is the union of a man and woman in the eyes of God.

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And you are entitled, as is your church to that belief. That is why no-one is forcing your church to perform these cermonies.

It's not the government's role to protect the "sanctity" of marriage, it's the churches. Just as the Catholic church used to not recognise second marriage after a civil divorce, religion has to right to bless or not bless any relationship they see fit.

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This is a tricky area of the Separation of Powers Act that has been argued as long as its been on the books so I do not think that we are going to resolve it here. A lot of what you and I are disagreeing on here is based on interpretation and people who have studied this their entire careers can't agree.

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I think the reason the court took this route, the ordering of the legislature that you don't like, is so they didn't have to throw out the entire marriage law and domestic partnership law. They had the foresight to know the turmoil that would cause. They took this route rather than throw the existing marriage system into chaos for 6 months.

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I looks to me that the law they found unconstitutional was the 'domestic partnership ' law and not the marriage law. The marriage law wouldn't have to be thrown out at all because of this action.

It's the domestic partnership law, the new one, that has serious holes and issues. Please correct me if I am wrong. The problem was that the new law did not go far enough to protect people's rights. Am I correct on this? I think the courts want a useful and enforceable law on the books.

You stated 4 options. The congress legally has a 5th although I am sure the would not use it. Remove the domestic partnership law from the books and either start all over or do nothing after that. Many states still don't have any domestic partnership laws.

Now it could be that the actual decision the court sent down along with their instructions does cover everything you and I have been discussing and the news just condensed it. And there could be other things in there as well. But, please remember that whenever there are issues that blur the lines between what branch of the government does what it gets very tricky and sometimes ugly.

BTW, thanks for keeping very civil with me as we discussed what I know to be a volitile issue.

tmp - nice way to pull out a minor statement from my post. From what you stated then marriage is the providence of the church. If they are to 'protect the sanctity of marriage' and we are to have a separation of church and state, then that must be so.

I never said I was against this. I just stated my own personal belief.

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I mention this again because I just finished reading it and it's truly insightful.

http://www.truthsetsfree.net/study.pdf

If you are a Christian who condemns homosexuals and/or gay marriage, read this. If you are gay and were once a Christian but were forced to leave because of persecution, read this.

In summary, there is nothing in the Bible that forbids two men from loving each other in that sort of way.

...Although the clincher is, as with a man and a woman, marriage is still a prerequisite.

:duh:

Hence the predicament doesn't change much, does it?

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I think that I can speak for all of the C&G staff in saying that we appreciate the civility with which this topic is being discussed. Well done all, stay on the high road.

:CG_all:

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