TRENTON, N.J., Oct 25 (Reuters) Saying that times have changed, New Jersey's highest court today guaranteed gay couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples but left it to state lawmakers to define how the state wants to define marriage.
''Times and attitudes have changed,'' the New Jersey State Supreme Court said in a nuanced 90-page ruling that was neither a clear victory nor a defeat for gay marriage, which is currently legal in the United States only in Massachusetts.
''Despite the rich diversity of this State, the tolerance and goodness of its people, and the many recent advances made by gays and lesbians toward achieving social acceptance and equality under the law, the Court cannot find that the right to same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under our constitution,'' the ruling continued.
But saying that gay couples must have the same rights as other couples, the court said gay advocates must now ''appeal to their fellow citizens whose voices are heard through their popularly elected representatives.'' With that in mind, the court gave the legislature six months to either amend the state's marriage statutes to include gay people, or write a new law in which same-sex couples ''would enjoy the rights of civil marriage.'' New Jersey's marriage statutes define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
That leaves state lawmakers with two options -- allow gays to marry in the same way as others, or develop a parallel system of unions for same-sex couples.
That second option would leave New Jersey with civil unions akin to those in Vermont.
Same-sex marriage has faced legal and political roadblocks in much of the United States.
Reuters DKS VP0225