New Jersey Superior Court, Middlesex County/Direct.

Denise Reinhardt/Reinhardt & Schachter; Rosemary DiSavino; Julie Goldsheid/NOW Legal Defense & Education Fund, Elizabeth Zuckerman, Zuckerman & Fisher

The ACLU-NJ sued the State of New Jersey and Rutgers University over the denial of health benefits to Rutgers University's lesbian and gay faculty members for their life partners. Our claims against the State proceeded first. The State determined that the plaintiffs - four Rutgers faculty members and a dean - were not entitled to health benefits for their partners under the State Health Benefits Plan (SHBP), which provides health insurance to all employees and their 'dependents.' The SHBP defines "dependents" as "spouses" and employees' children. The State argued that the SHBP only provided benefits to the legally married spouses of employees. We argued that the term 'dependents' in the SHBP should be interpreted broadly to encompass gay and lesbian life partners of Rutgers' employees. We further argued that to deny plaintiffs health insurance benefits - a central component of compensation - equal to that provided to married heterosexual employees, constitutes discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and marital status. The Appellate Division dismissed our complaint against the State. The court found that the State Health Benefits Plan only provided benefits to legally married "spouses" of employees; that the Law Against Discrimination did not apply because there is an exception for bona fide insurance plans; and that there was no violation of the equal protection clause because other people, in addition to gay couples, may not legally marry and therefore the denial of benefits is not based on sexual orientation. The ACLU-NJ filed an appeal and a Petition for Certification to the New Jersey Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court denied the Petition for Certification and dismissed the appeal. We then proceeded with our case against the University. In January 2004, the New Jersey Legislature passed a domestic partnership bill that will require the State to offer health care benefits for the partners of employees in same-sex partnerships. We await the promulgation of policies to effectuate the domestic partnership bill, so as to ensure it will cover same-sex partners of plaintiffs who have retired but remain under the State's pension and benefits plan.

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