N.J. ruling hailed in The City 

State’s high court decides same-sex couples entitled to rights heterosexuals enjoy

Weeks after a California appeals court decided to uphold a ban on gay marriage, local gay marriage advocates are applauding a decision by New Jersey’s highest court that paves the way for same-sex marriage in that state.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that gay couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual ones, though it remains to be seen what name would be given to the relationships. The court’s 4-3 decision gives lawmakers six months to decide if same-sex couples’ rights should be called marriage, civil unions or by another name.

"It’s helpful to have a sister court say full equality must" prevail, said Kate Kendell, an attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has offices on Market Street. "It’s nice to have a win, to have a court anywhere say your lives matter and that the Constitution includes you."

Three weeks ago, a decision by the California state appeals court reversed a March 2005 ruling bya lower court that said denying marriage to same-sex couples violates their constitutional right to equal protection. San Francisco, a party in the legal battle, is appealing the case to the state Supreme Court.

San Francisco and New Jersey’s cases are similar in that they’re both concerned with issues of equal protection, said Terese Stewart, chief deputy city attorney in San Francisco.

"All seven justices [in New Jersery] held that it [a ban on gay marriage or civil unions] violates equal protection," Stewart said.

The state Supreme Court is slated to receive an application from The City next month and will likely take up the case next year, said Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.

Equal legal protection under the law means gay couples may have the same dignity and respect enjoyed by their straight counterparts, said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California.

Marriage includes hundreds of rights and responsibilities and tax breaks, plus the stability of marriage, Kors said.

Thirteen months ago, Sacramento lawmakers passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage only to have Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger veto it. The governor said a higher court should decide the matter.

San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno has vowed to put the measure on the governor’s desk again in the coming legislative session.

The New Jersey ruling could influence the governor to change his mind, Stewart said.

mcarroll@examiner.com

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