The New Jersey supreme court announced Wednesday it is leaving a case involving the legality of same-sex marriages with an appeals court. The state's highest court also directed the New Jersey appellate division to speed up its scheduling of an appeal in the case before a three-judge panel.
Officials at Lambda Legal, the group pushing for same-sex marriages in New Jersey, said the court's decision was disappointing for the seven gay and lesbian couples involved in the case. "I think the state and everyone agrees that this is going to end up in the highest court," said David Buckel, director of Lambda Legal's Marriage Project. "So from our perspective, we thought it would be better to get it there sooner than later."
The New Jersey attorney general's office, which had also supported moving the case directly to the supreme court, had no comment on the ruling.
Frank Askin, a professor at Rutgers Law School in Newark, said the encouraging news is that the supreme court wants the appeals process expedited, a sign that it is taking the case seriously. "I think they would like another court to consider it and give another opinion, to see what three appeals judges think about it first," Askin said.
Filed in 2002, the case involves seven New Jersey couples denied marriage licenses by municipal clerks. A superior court judge ruled last fall against legalizing gay marriages in the state, and the plaintiffs appealed the ruling. The state attorney general's office has argued that New Jersey's constitution
does not permit same-sex unions and that the legislature, not the courts, is responsible for changing the definition of marriage.