In a 4-3 decision the New Jersey Supreme Court held that “although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists in this State, the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our State Constitution.”

Translation? In short, the Court said that gay couples should receive all the rights and benefits of marriage that the state of NJ can provide. But it’s up to the legislature to decide whether or not that union is called “marriage” or “civil union” or some other term. Essentially, the NJ decision echoes Vermont’s. It mandates that the legislature resolve these inequalities within six months. Given that Corzine and other leading NJ Dems haven’t supported “gay marriage” outright, expect civil unions, and not gay marriage, to be the solution.

The distinction won’t matter within NJ per se– since the Court said that whatever the union is called, it must provide all the rights and benefits of marriage — but it could have implications nationwide. A gay marriage bill from the legislature would open up the possibility that the federal government and other states would have to recognize same-sex marriages from NJ under the full faith and credit clause of the US Constitution. A civil union bill would not have such ramifications. Massachusetts has a law barring out of state couples from marrying within state if their home state would not recognize the union; New Jersey does not. Hence, gay marriage advocates were eager for a definitive pro-marriage decision and, despite what they say to the press, surely a bit dissappointed at this ruling.

Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, joined by Justices Long and Zazzali, filed a concurring and dissenting opinion. Their opinion called for full marriage rights (thus the concurring part) including the right to the title “marriage” (the dissenting part).

I’ll file more later once I digest the entire decision.