width="150" />The New Jersey Supreme Court took a step toward marriage equality, ruling unanimously that same-sex couples deserve the same rights as other couples.

"Times and attitudes have changed," the court wrote, adding, "discrimination against gays and lesbians is no longer acceptable in this state." Click here to read the court's ruling in a new window (pdf).

The court stopped short of granting gay couples the right to marry.

As in New Jersey, California courts have considered discriminatory laws aimed at preventing same-sex marriage. A divided appeals court ruled against marriage equality in October, and the ACLU California affiliates and civil rights groups have appealed the case to the state Supreme Court. Both states have domestic partner laws that attempt to mimic marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The New Jersey court noted that the state's domestic partnership law has "failed to bridge the inequality gap between committed same-sex couples and married opposite-sex couples." The state legislature has 180 days to decide how to give couples equal rights, for instance by extending marriage or by passing a "civil union" law, as Vermont did in 2000.

While the ACLU applauded the decision, it believes only marriage rights will guarantee full equal treatment for same-sex couples. Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have established marriage equality.

New Jersey Chief Justice Deborah Poritz concurred with the decision but wrote in a dissent that by refusing to give same-sex couples the right to marry, the court sends the message that "what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as 'real' marriage."

"We must not underestimate the power of language," she warned.

Photo by Kara Korbel Chinula