A law firm founded by the Reverend Pat Robertson filed a lawsuit on Monday in an attempt to prevent more marriage licenses from being issued to same-sex couples in Asbury Park, N.J. The filing came less than a week after the town halted the practice under pressure from state officials. Attorney General Peter C. Harvey had threatened to prosecute any city official involved in issuing the licenses or performing marriages for gay couples. At the same time it voted to stop accepting applications, the Asbury Park city council said it would file a lawsuit seeking a court ruling in support of same-sex vows.
Vincent McCarthy of the Washington, D.C.-based American Center for Law and Justice said his organization felt it was important to file now because the city's decision to stop was voluntary. The ACLJ action was filed in state superior court in Freehold. "It's a safety net, so if Asbury Park decides to change its mind and go ahead and start issuing these things again, it's a backstop," McCarthy said. "We'd just go into court and ask the court to issue appropriate orders." The lawsuit was brought on behalf of two Asbury Park residents, one of whom is McCarthy's sister. The complaint names the city of Asbury Park, Deputy Mayor James Bruno, and Kikki Tomek, deputy municipal clerk. It argues that marriage is legally recognized in New Jersey to be "exclusively a union of one man and one woman" and asks for a declaration from the court that Asbury Park officials "acted in violation of New Jersey law and public policy."
City officials said Monday afternoon that they were in the process of reviewing the matter. In a related lawsuit, a gay rights group is appealing a November 5 ruling by a superior court judge in Mercer County who determined that state law does not allow same-sex marriages. The judge ruled that nothing in the state constitution guarantees same-sex unions as a right and that the appropriate forum to change marriage laws is the legislature. That lawsuit was filed by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a New York-based group that is also pursuing gay marriage rights in California, New York, and Washington State. Lambda spokesman Michael Adams strongly criticized the filing of Monday's lawsuit. "Our reaction is that not only is it legally baseless, that perhaps at least as important from a human perspective, it's heartless that this lawsuit seeks to take away from loving couples recognition of their relationships," he said. Adams said the state constitution is clear on the issue of equality and that Lambda believes that means equal access to marriage. "The ACLJ can choose to focus all of their energy on the nitty-gritty of a state statute, but at the end of the day, it's the constitution that governs," he said.