In breaking news overnight, the New Jersey supreme court has given a qualified victory to supporters of gay marriage.

The court unanimously held that the state’s constitutional guarantee of equal protection requires that gay couples be offered the same legal rights as heteros-xual couples.

“Denying committed same-s-x couples the financial and social benefits and privileges given to their married heteros-xual counterparts bears no substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose.”

By a 4-3 majority, however, the court held that gays did not “have a constitutional right to have their relationship recognised by the name of marriage”, ruling that “The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to same-s-x couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.”

The decision therefore leaves open the possibility of legislating for a form of partnership for gay couples that is marriage in all but name. This is the compromise solution that has been adopted with striking success in Britain.

The same solution was adopted here by the ACT, but was overturned by the Howard government.

But the dynamics of the debate are interestingly different. In the more secular and pragmatic world of British politics, “marriage in all but name” seems satisfactory. But in the US, symbolism is more important, and the battle over the word “marriage” is keenly fought.

So while overseas media are reporting the decision as a win – “US court grants gay marriage rights”, says The Age – gay rights advocates on the spot are less content.

According to The New York Times, the director of Garden State Equality said: “Those who would view today’s ruling as a victory for same s-x couples are dead wrong”.

It remains to be seen whether Australia will opt for sensible compromise or religious warfare.