Judge Paves Way For Marriage Equality In NJ

Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson

“either grant same-sex couples the right to marry or create a parallel statutory structure,” wrote Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson.

STATE – New Jersey officials will be required to permit same-sex couples to marry beginning Oct. 21 under a ruling by Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson today.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration will appeal the decision, according to a statement from his office.

Jacobson granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment in Garden State Equality v. Paula Dow. In her decision, the judge wrote that “…the New Jersey Constitution required the State to either grant same-sex couples the right to marry or create a parallel statutory structure that allows those couples to obtain all the same rights and benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act this summer, several federal agencies have extended marital benefits to same-sex married couples, but most have not offered them to couples joined in civil unions.

“New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions are no longer entitled to all of the same rights and benefits as opposite sex married couples…solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the State,” Jacobson wrote.  “Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution.”

“Governor 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,” said a statement from Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak. “Since the legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination.”

“Marriage equality is about equal rights and justice and this decision is legal affirmation,” said state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and state Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak in a joint statement. “Everyone should respect the court’s judgment just as society should respect the decision of gay couples to marry. The time has come for true marriage equality and for New Jersey this decision says that time is now.”

“Today’s Superior Court summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs seeking marriage equality is a victory for equality and justice for New Jersey’s gay and lesbian community,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “I call on Governor Christie to put an end to his attempt to thwart the state constitution and the will of New Jersey’s people and recognize that marriage equality in New Jersey is not only right and just, but it is also inevitable.”

New Jersey’s Democrat-controlled Legislature passed a marriage equality bill last year, but Christie vetoed it and suggested that voters should be allowed to decide whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Democrats balked at putting a civil rights issue up for vote, but so far have not been able to muster enough support to override the governor’s veto, though they are gaining momentum.

“Civil unions are separate and unequal, particularly in light of this year’s historic Supreme Court term,” 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.”

“I’ll be disappointed if the [Christie] administration chooses to appeal,’’ said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), who is openly gay. “Politically he has to resolve the differences within his own party. The Tea Baggers will want him to appeal, and the more moderate Rockefeller Republicans … will say live and let live.”

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