It's not exactly an October surprise, but the New Jersey Supreme Court has just handed the GOP the sticks it needs to light a fire under the religious right: In a divided ruling, the court says that "denying rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples that are statutorily given to their heterosexual counterparts violates the equal protection guarantee" of the state's Constitution.
Translation: New Jersey must let gay couples marry -- or at least do something by some other name that carries with it all the benefits and responsibilities of the marriages the state recognizes among heterosexuals.
From the majority opinion: "To comply with this constitutional mandate, the legislature must either amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples or create a parallel statutory structure, which will provide for, on equal terms, the rights and benefits enjoyed and burdens and obligations borne by married couples. We will not presume that a separate statutory scheme, which uses a title other than marriage, contravenes equal protection principles, so long as the rights and benefits of civil marriage are made equally available to same-sex couples. The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to same-sex couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process."
One more detail to inflame the right: The majority opinion was written by Justice Barry Albin, who was nominated to the court by former Gov. Jim McGreevey.