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After New Jersey defeat, gay marriage advocates turn to courts

Gay-rights activists in New Jersey said they would file a lawsuit following the defeat of the gay-marriage bill in the state Senate Thursday. But the effort to legalize gay marriage through the courts carries its own risks.

By Michael B. FarrellStaff writer / January 8, 2010



San Francisco

Hours after the New Jersey Senate voted against a bill Thursday to legalize same-sex marriage, a coalition of gay-rights advocates said they would make their case in the state’s Supreme Court.

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With the nationwide campaign to legalize gay marriage suffering a series of setbacks in recent months – a ballot measure was defeated in Maine last November and a bill rejected by the New York Senate – many advocates see the courtroom as the most likely venue for opening marriage to gay and lesbian couples in the near term.

In San Francisco, a lawsuit in a federal court begins Monday that challenges the Constitutionality of Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-approved initiative that banned gay marriage in California. In US District Court in Boston, two lawsuits seek to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which limits the government’s definition of marriage to a union between a man and woman.

“[T]he New Jersey legislature defaulted on its constitutional obligation to provide same-sex couples in New Jersey equal protection, as unanimously mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2006...,” said Steven Goldstein of the gay-rights group, Garden State Equality, at a press conference following Thursday’s vote. He added, “Our side is going back to court to win marriage equality.”

Vote v. court

While the San Francisco trial is focused on Proposition 8, it could have an impact on the nationwide debate on gay marriage and eventually reach the US Supreme Court.

When the case was initially filed, a coalition of gay-rights groups issued a statement saying it was too early to challenge Proposition 8 in federal courts. They wanted to return to the polls to legalize gay marriage.

“A marriage case based on the federal Constitution may well not win the right to marry back in California. A loss would likely set back the fight for marriage nationwide,” said the statement by the country’s leading gay rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal.

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