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New Jersey same-sex marriage case test for US states' rights

A same-sex marriage case, centered in New Jersey but with nationwide implications, went to oral arguments recently. Although technically only applicable in the state, a ruling on the rights of gay and lesbian couples would have repercussions in the ongoing national discussion of gay vs. straight family law challenges. The Supreme Court earlier struck down key parts of a law precluding federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Six couples and their children had taken New Jersey to court over what they claimed were violations of a 2006 state supreme court ruling.

The plaintiffs argued that under the ruling, equal protections under the law were to be extended to same-sex married couples. They said that the New Jersey civil union law did not provide those protections. Gay and lesbian couples have been fighting for same-sex recognition in the state since 2002. This was years before the first acknowledgements of the rights of such partners. At the time of the latest court challenge, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were the only two northeastern states out of 13 not to recognize same-sex marriage.

New Jersey officials said that same-sex families' rights were not violated, because under the state's civil unions law, gay and lesbian couples who were not recognized as being married could still get the same federal protections as traditional married couples. The officials added that if people's federal protections were being violated, then the federal government should be sued, not the state. No matter which way the state supreme court decides, the verdict is sure to be appealed.

The same-sex marriage debate is contentious on all sides. Nontraditional couples wishing to ensure their rights may find helpful the assistance of an attorney experienced in its unique family law challenges and custody issues.

Source: CBS New York, "NJ Legal Hearing To Test Federal Gay Marriage Ruling", August 11, 2013

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