In a split decision, the state Supreme Court has declined to hear a case from six same-sex couples seeking the right to marry, saying the case needs to wind its way through the lower courts first.
“This matter cannot be decided without the development of an appropriate trial-like record,” wrote the three justices who voted to deny the couples' motion, adding "we reach no conclusion on the merits of the plaintiffs’ allegations regarding the constitutionality of the Civil Union Act.".
The couples filed the case in the aftermath of the failure of same-sex legislation in the state Senate, arguing that the state’s 2006 civil union law had failed to grant them the full rights and benefits of heterosexual married couples that the court mandated the Legislature provide them with four years ago. Since the Legislature failed to pass same-sex marriage, the couples wanted the court to intervene.
They will now have to file a new complaint in Superior Court, which will then have to climb the rungs to reach the state Supreme Court.
The decision was 3-3, with Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Justices Roberto Rivera-Soto and Helen Hoens voting to deny the couples’ motion. Three justices dissented: Virginia Long, Jaynee LaVecchia and Barry Albin. It takes four votes to approve a motion, and the court has had a vacant seat since Gov. Chris Christie declined to renominate former Justice John Wallace, whose term expired in May.
The three dissenting justices wrote that the court should have heard oral arguments from the plaintiffs as well as opponents of same-sex marriage.
“At the very least, oral argument would have helped to guide us on the best procedural course for creating such a record,” they said."We are disappointed that three members of the court voted to deny the motion without oral argument and that plaintiffs must now begin anew... If the plaintiffs' allegations are true -- and we will not surmise whether they are or are not -- then the constitutional inequities shoudl be addressed without any unnecessary delay."
The dissenters said they hoped the case would make its way through the Superior Court with "deliberate speed."
The decision was split not along ideological lines, but among those who have and have not been granted tenure. The three justices who have to be reconfirmed voted to deny the motion, while the three who have received lifetime tenure until the age of 70 dissented.