A state judge ruled Friday that New Jersey must permit same-sex couples in the state to marry, saying that the state must comply with the Supreme Court’s decision in June to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that blocking same-sex couples from marrying would deny them the rights and benefits now guaranteed by the federal government. Judge Jacobson ordered state officials to begin officiating ceremonies on Oct. 21.
“This unequal treatment requires that New Jersey extend civil marriage to same-sex couples to satisfy equal protection guarantees of the New Jersey Constitution as interpreted by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis,” she wrote in her ruling. ”Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution.”
This is the first time a court has struck down a state ban on same-sex marriage after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling. A victory for advocates of marriage equality, Jacobson’s ruling comes from a lawsuit presented by six same-sex couples and their children who argued that it was legally unfair for same-sex couples to be confined to “second-class” civil unions after the Supreme Court’s ruling on United States v. Windsor.
The judge cited examples of the inherent inequality. ”Civil union partners who are federal employees living in New Jersey are ineligible for marital rights with regard to the federal pension system, all civil union partners who are employees working for businesses to which the Family and Medical Leave Act applies may not rely on its statutory protections for spouses, and civil union couples may not access the federal tax benefits that married couples enjoy.”
“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.
The ruling is likely to be appealed, first to an intermediate court and perhaps then to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The decision is also expected to be challenged by Gov. Chris Christie, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage.