Lambda Legal filed their appeal brief today in the case of Lewis v. Harris, a lawsuit seeking marriage equality in New Jersey. The suit is currently before the appellate division and will most likely end up before the New Jersey Supreme Court regardless of how the appellate court rules. At some point in the near future I'll write about the legal arguments in the case, but for now I just want to focus on the families involved. What follows is the statement of facts from the brief, with only the internal citations omitted.
The facts of this case are undisputed. The plaintiffs are seven New Jersey couples who have been denied the right to marry solely because they are committed same-sex couples. These couples live in communities spanning the state--from Butler, Pompton Lakes, Union City, Newark, Franklin Park, and Aberdeen to Haddonfield. The plaintiffs include a Federal Express dispatcher, an ordained minister, an investment asset manager, a university web services director, a church administrator, a speech therapist who works with special needs children, a non-profit organization administrator,two pastors, a nurse, a small business owner, and co-owners of an executive search frim who have alternated being stay-at-home moms.
Most of these couples are very active in their communities. The plaintiffs serve on local zoning and planning boards, sit on the boards of trustees of a community hospital and a YMCA camp, act as a Police and Fire Chaplain, participate in local business and professional associations and a variety of church activities, and volunteer as school class moms, youth soccer coaches, PTA members, and soup kitchen workers.
Many of the plaintiff couples are raising children together. Cindy Meneghin and Maureen Kilian have two children: Josh (age 10) and Sarah (age 8). Sarah and Suyin Lael are the parents of three girls: Zemali (age 6), Tanaj (age 4) and Danica (age 3). At the time of the filings below, Karen and Marcye Nicholson-McFadden had a 4-year old son named Kasey and a newborn daughter, Maya. Marilyn Maneely and Diane Marini have raised five children together, the youngest of whom recently left home for college. Alicia Toby and Saundra Heath are now grandparents. Many of the plaintiffs also have shared in the care and support of each other's elderly parents and are deeply involved with one another's extended families.
The plaintiffs have been in committed relationships with their respective partners for periods of between one and three decades. Dennis Winslow and Mark Lewis have shared their lives for 11 years. Marilyn Maneely and Diane Marini have been together 12 years. Sarah and Suyin Lael have been comitted to one another for 13 years. Alicia Toby and Saundra Heath have been partners for 14 years, as have Karen and Marcye Nicholson-McFadden. Cindy Meneghin and Maureen Kilian met in their teens at church, became high school sweethearts, and have been a committed couple for over 29 years. And Chris Lodewsyks and Craig Hutchinson, who met in college and are now in their early fifties, have been in a committed relationship for 32 years. The level of commitment and love these couples feel is no different than their married friends.
In June of 2000, each of the plaintiff couples appeared before the officer authorized to issue marriage licenses in the municipality or county where the couple resides and requested a marriage license. Each couple fulfilled all of New Jersey's statutory requirements for the issuance of the license, except for the fact that they were same-sex couples. The government officials in each instance refused to grant them the liense and turned them away solely because they were a same-sex couple.
The harms each of the plaintiffs has suffered by being denied the ability to enter a civil marriage with the one person who is the love of his or her life are multiple, ongoing, and often of momentous import. Some are very tangible, economic injuries. For example, Cindy and Maureen have had to pay for expensive cross-adoptions of their children that would not have been necessary had they been married. Karen and Marcye likewise had to pay for second-parent adoptions and, over the years, have paid four lawyers, a financial planner, and a tax accountant ot advise them on ways best protect their family that married couples never need even consider. Karen and Marcye, as well as Sarah and Suyin, have had to maintain two separate health plans and pay double deductibles that would not have been necessary had they been allowed to wed. Without marriage, Alicia and Saundra likewise have had higher health insurance and other costs and less disposable income. As a result, they have not even been able to afford a lawyer to drap up documents providing the few protections unmarried couples can secure in that way. The higher expenses Maureen and Cindy have experienced because they could not mary has meant that they couldnot afford to have one of them stay at home while their children were little, as they believed was best. For Suyin and Sarah, these costs have affected their educational and career choices. As someone who legally was married earlier in life, Marilyn once enjoyed the discounts on insurance, car rentals, and travel and the employment benefits that are not available to her and Diane or to other committed same-sex couples because the State excludes them from marriage.
Some harms in being excluded from marriage are not financial, but still are quite significant. For example, unlike married couples who have children through assisted insemination, Maureen and Cindy had no presumption that they were both legal parents of their children and had to undergo invasive home visits by social workers, disclose highly personal information, an dworry for three years while their children's legal status with one parent was unresolved pending finalization of cross-adoptions. Karen and Marcye similarly had to undergo invasive home studies, fingerprinting, and an FBI background check, and many months of uncertainty to adopt their own children. Sarah was not entitled to family leave or family sick days when Suyin needed surgery and then support during her recovery.
These harms will remain notwithstanding the State's recent passage of a domestic partnership law, as explained below. Moreover, that law does not address any of the noneconomic harms the couples experience in being denied the freedom to marry.
Among those are serious dignitary harms. Committed same-sex couples like the plaintiffs live in constant insecurity about what might happen to them in times of crisis or tragedy without a marriage. When Diane struggled with treatment for breast cancer, when Marilyn was hospitalized after a car accident, and when Cindy was taken to the emergency room with meningitis, each had to worry about whether the most important person in her life would be treated as importantliy as a spouse. As a nurse for 30 years, Marilyn knows first-hand the difference it makes when a visitor can convey the privileged status of a spouse and what it means when they cannot.
Even times of joy--both large and small--are undermined by being denied access to marriage. When Marcye gave birth to Kasey after a long labor, Karen's role needed to be established over and over again, even in the newborn nursery, when the word's "we're married" would have averted this. Instead of being able to celebrate at others' weddings, the plaintiffs feel sadness and heartache at their own exclusion from marraige.
Each of these couples is denied entry into the institution that would best express the commitment and the core values of integrity, community, honor, respect and love the couple shares. The State's refusal to grant them marriage licenses has thwarted dream they have held since their youth. For those for whom marriage has a religious dimension, the harm is also spiritual in nature.
For all of the plaintiff couples, without being able to invoke the word "marriage," they are forced to try to provide explanations that demean their relationship, at least in part because an explanation has to be made at all. On a daily basis, they experience the insult and unfairness of being individuals whose government openly treats them unequally. For Dennis and Mark, pastors who have officiated at hundreds of legal marriage ceremonies as agents of the State, they are put in the humiliating position of signing marriage licenses for other couples, while the State will not allow them to get one for themselves.
Without accesss to marriage, each of these couples' relationships is devalued routinely. They have to check "single" on froms at doctor's offices and their children's schools or have to attempt to rewrite forms that acknowledge only married or single people. Because they cannot say they are married, their relationships are seen as less worthy, or even of no significance, by many.
The plaintiff couples worry acutely about the messages their children are receiving because the goverment does not allow their parents to marry. They also feel deeply the loss other family members experience because of the bar to their marriages. One of the most painful sadnesses in Marcye's life is that her mother and father did not live long enough to see her married, and Maureen wishes her mother could have had the joy and peace that being part of a wedding ceremony for Maureen and Cindy would have brought her. Several of the plaintiffs' parents further attest ot the harms their children and grandchildren suffer because the State denies the plaintiff couples access to legal marriage.