The New Jersey Superior Court ruled to overturn the ban on gay marriage late last month, arguing that the civil union system violates both the 14th Amendment and the New Jersey Constitution. Hayley Gorenberg ’87 acted as lead counsel for the case for two years, representing Lambda Legal, a national organization committed to achieving civil rights for LGBT individuals and people living with HIV.
Unless the case is stayed pending appeal, the option to marry will be available for all gays and lesbians in New Jersey on Oct. 21.
In 2002, Lambda Legal filed suit on behalf of seven same-sex New Jersey couples in the case of Lewis v. Harris. In 2006, the State Superior Court unanimously decided that gay and lesbian persons must be provided all of the benefits and responsibilities of marriage but did not specify that gay and lesbians should have the right to marry. In response, the New Jersey State legislature passed a civil union law, which went into effect in 2007.
According to Gorenberg, these civil unions relegated same-sex couples to “a separate status that was not equal,” prompting Lambda Legal to file suit again in 2011 on behalf of Garden State Equality, a state-wide LGBT advocacy group.
Gorenberg began to get involved in the legal proceedings regarding marriage equality in 2011. After the 2013 United States v. Windsor decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, Gorenberg and her legal team successfully moved for a summary judgment in the litigation. Two months later, the Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. However, the defense is still making efforts to appeal.
“I think we will win this basic right for same-sex marriage equality in New Jersey,” Gorenberg said regarding the case. “The work takes me back to my early impetus to address the need for equality for people regardless of their gender or their expression of their gender,” she added.
Nevertheless, Gorenberg says there is still more work to be done, particularly to protect transgendered and transsexual individuals from harassment and discrimination.
Prior to her efforts to advance marriage equality, Gorenberg was lead counsel for Matthew Cusick, an employee of Cirque du Soleil who was fired in 2003 for being diagnosed with HIV. The case afforded Cusick the largest award ever given for an HIV-discrimination complaint filed through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and resulted in Cirque du Soleil’s revision of their disability and nondiscrimination policies, Gorenberg explained.
In addition to her work on behalf of individuals with HIV, Gorenberg has also fought against gender-based discrimination and environmental degradation. Before becoming a public interest lawyer, Gorenberg started out as a journalist.
“I went into journalism thinking that if I could write deeply and clearly about things that needed to be addressed, people would respond to issues around them,” Gorenberg said. However, she said that in journalism, she felt that she was “on the sidelines” too much and that she needed to take a stand on the issues she cared about.
“Some of the people who seemed most able to affect change were lawyers,” Gorenberg said. Consequently, she decided to attend law school at New York University.
Upon graduation, Gorenberg received a one-year federal clerkship in the Southern District of New York. She went on to become the first staff attorney for the HIV Advocacy Project of Legal Services’ Queens Office and then headed a citywide legal task force to meet the needs of low-income New Yorkers with HIV.
“What Hayley works toward is a just world. In Hebrew we call it ‘takum olam’, ‘repairing the world.’ It’s something I see in everything she does,” said Jenni Levy ’82, who met Gorenberg through Parent Net, a TigerNet alumni discussion forum. “She holds our public institutions to a higher standard.”
William Ho ’87, who knew Gorenberg from when she played the violin in middle school, similarly remarked that Gorenberg’s capacity to act selflessly was one of the qualities he admired most about her.
“She always seems to fight for people who don’t have a voice or could use someone on their side,” Ho said. “She didn’t necessarily have to do these things. None of this directly affected her, you know, helping other people. It’s what’s always impressed me about her.”
Ho added that when he came out, Gorenberg was one of the first people he told. “I felt that she would be very supportive and she was. That’s just carried on in everything she does for causes that are very important to me and very personal for me,” Ho said.
While at Princeton, Gorenberg majored in English and pursued similar social justice initiatives, promoting racial equality and taking action to end sexual harassment. She also participated in the peer-to-peer counseling program.
“On a human and emotional level, I’m interested in people feeling good about themselves and well-supported in the society,” Gorenberg said.
Gorenberg currently serves on the University’s Advisory Council for the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is the mother of two girls.