A New Jersey court ruled on Friday that state officials must allow same-sex couples to marry beginning October 21, stating that the current civil union system deprives same-sex couples of equal protection under the law. A spokesman for Republican Governor Chris Christie said the state would appeal the decision, but did not say whether it would seek a stay to delay the ruling from taking effect.
Judge Mary Jacobson of the State Superior Court in Mercer County found that denying marriage equality to same-sex couples violated the New Jersey state constitution. The New Jersey Supreme Court had previously considered the issue in 2006. Although stopping short of finding that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry, the state supreme court, in Lewis v. Harris, ruled that committed same-sex couples must have the same legal rights, benefits, and privileges as heterosexual married couples. In response, the state legislature created a new civil union law.
In her ruling, Judge Jacobson found that in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor this June, same-sex couples in New Jersey could never access federal marital benefits. “Under these circumstances, the current inequality visited upon same-sex civil union couples offends the New Jersey Constitution, creates an incomplete set of rights that Lewis sought to prevent, and is not compatible with ‘a reasonable conception of basic human dignity,’” she wrote, quoting Lewis.
If the ruling stands, this will be the first time a state has lifted a ban on gay marriage as a result of Windsor, which struck down the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, effectively conferring federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, but not to same-sex couples in civil unions. It will also make New Jersey the 14th U.S. state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Media Resources: Reuters 9/27/13; The New York Times 9/27/13; Rutgers School of Law; Superior Court of NJ Law Division, Mercer County 9/27/13