UPDATED: Christie to appeal
A New Jersey judge Sept. 27 ruled that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in the state.
Judge Mary Jacobson said after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages, not recognizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey violates the state constitution.
“The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts,” Jacobson wrote.
Her order, responding to a request from equality advocates for summary judgment in a case, said same-sex marriages in New Jersey could begin on Oct. 21. The window provides the state time for an appeal and to request an injunction.
An appeals seems likely, said Troy Stevenson of Garden State Equality, the statewide LGBT group.
"Today’s ruling is historic – there’s no doubt," he said. "It affirms what a supermajority of New Jerseyans know: there is no constitutional basis for denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry."
But the lower court decision most likely will be appealed.
A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie said on Sept. 27, "Gov. Christie has always maintained that he would abide by the will of the voters on the issue of marriage equality and called for it to be on the ballot this Election Day. Since the Legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination."
State lawmakers already have passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, but the Republican governor, who is in a re-election now and said to have presidential ambitions, vetoed the measure saying voters should decide the issue.
That was before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and a sweeping change in public opinion on the issue. Equality advocates think they now have the votes to override Christie.
In 2006, New Jersey's highest court ruled that the state had to provide same-sex couples with rights similar to those of married couples, which led to New Jersey enacting civil union legislation rather than marriage.
“Civil unions are separate and unequal,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “There are no rational arguments why couples in New Jersey should be relegated to second class status. State officials should not appeal this sound decision and no longer stand in the way of loving couples being able to make a lifelong commitment with full state and federal recognition.”
Garden State Equality, represented by Lambda Legal, was the plaintiff in the case before Jacobson, who is on the bench in Mercer County Superior Court.
October could also bring advances in marriage equality in Hawaii, where a special session of the Legislature is scheduled to consider a bill, and in Illinois, where a fall veto session of the Legislature may take up a bill that already has passed the Senate.
In both Hawaii and Illinois, Democratic governors support the equality bills.