Lewis v. Harris
Case seeking the right to marry for same-sex couples in New Jersey
In 2002, Lambda Legal filed a historic case seeking marriage equality on behalf of seven New Jersey couples. Our case reached the state supreme court in 2006. The high court ruled unanimously that same-sex couples must be provided all the benefits and responsibilities of marriage, although it declined to mandate that marriage was specifically required, and gave the state legislature 180 days to choose either marriage or an alternate system that would provide equality. The legislature hastily passed a civil union law in December 2006. In December 2008 the Civil Union Review Commission, appointed by the legislature, issued its report documenting how civil unions fall short of providing the court-mandated equality for same-sex couples. In January 2010, days before the legislative session ended, the New Jersey Senate voted on and failed to pass a marriage equality law. On March 18, 2010, Lambda Legal filed a motion asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to intercede and order marriage to secure compliance with its original mandate of equality for the Lewis v. Harris plaintiffs.
In February 2007, New Jersey became the fifth state to provide same-sex couples with marriage or a legal package of rights and responsibilities parallel to marriage, joining California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.
Lambda Legal’s Impact
In this important decision, every justice on the state high court said that same-sex couples must receive equal treatment from the government and be given rights and benefits of marriage. It led to the passage of New Jersey’s civil union law. This means that same-sex couples in New Jersey will be extended all of the rights, responsibilities and benefits of marriage, except the profound benefit of the word itself. As a result of our dogged education work across New Jersey, launched by Lambda Legal and expanded by key allies, more voters in the state are in favor of marriage equality and key legislative leaders have promised to push for it as well.
- January 2001 Lambda Legal starts building the foundation for New Jersey to expand its protections of same-sex couples’ relationships over time while pulling marriage equality to the nearest possible horizon.
- June 2002 Lambda Legal files historical lawsuit in New Jersey state court seeking marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples in New Jersey.
- June 2003 Lambda Legal argues the case in court.
- November 2003 Trial court upholds the exclusion from marriage.
- December 2004 Lambda Legal argues appeal before the intermediate appellate court.
- June 2005 Appellate division affirms lower court, 2–1.
- February 2006 Lambda Legal presents oral argument to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
- October 2006 Victory! The seven justices of the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously agree that denying same-sex couples the rights and benefits different-sex couples obtain through marriage is unconstitutional and directs state legislature to take action within 180 days.
- December 2006 New Jersey Legislature passes civil union bill; Lambda Legal moves forward with "Civil Union Watch" to reach the goal of marriage equality.
- December 2008 New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission, appointed by the legislature, concludes that civil unions are insufficient and do not provide equality.
- January 2010 New Jersey Senate votes down a marriage equality bill.
- March 2010 Lambda Legal files a motion reactivating the case for marriage equality on behalf of the plaintiffs in the original Lewis v. Harris lawsuit.
- July 2010 Supreme Court denies motion in aid of litigants' rights; requires further proceedings to develop record in Superior Court.