The New Jersey Supreme Court held that, under the New Jersey Constitution, same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits as married opposite-sex couples. The decision fell short of giving same-sex couples the right to marry.
The decision gives the New Jersey Legislature 180 days to implement legislation to provide equal rights and benefits to same-sex couples. This decision will impact employers in the State. For example, under current law, employer-sponsored health insurance plans need not provide for dependent coverage to domestic partners. Moreover, the New Jersey Family Leave Act does not provide for leave to care for domestic partners. Likewise, current New Jersey wage law allows spouses (but not domestic partners) to collect back wages owed to a deceased spouse.
The decision significantly extends the rights of same-sex couples. The Court has left it to the Legislature to decide whether these rights will be labeled “marriage,” and to determine the means by which these changes will be implemented. Whatever the means selected, employers can anticipate changes in employment practices and policies, particularly with respect to family leave.