New Jersey judge orders state to allow gay marriage. Christie vows appeal. (+video)
The judge said New Jersey must allow gay marriage because the federal government isn't extending full and equal benefits to same-sex couples under the state's civil union law.
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The federal government and federal agencies have been seeking to answer that question since June. At least so far, the answer has been no, civil unions are not recognized by the federal government as marriages for purposes of federal marriage benefits.Skip to next paragraph
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Judge Jacobson noted that gay rights activists might have filed suit against the federal government to force it to adopt a broader definition of marriage.
But she said they were also entitled to sue in New Jersey to overturn a state legislative roadblock that was now preventing same-sex civil union couples from being treated equally with married couples in New Jersey.
A coalition of same-sex rights groups called Garden State Equality and six same-sex couples and their children filed their motion within days of the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision.
They argued that the New Jersey Constitution guarantees that they be treated equally with married couples in the state. Their plight could be resolved by exchanging two words for one word – civil union for marriage.
The judge agreed.
“Following the [US Supreme Court’s DOMA decision] and the subsequent implementation of that decision by several federal agencies, same-sex couples are only afforded the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples if they are married,” the judge said in her decision.
“Since New Jersey currently denies marriage to same-sex couples, same-sex civil union partners in New Jersey are ineligible for many federal marital benefits,” she said. “The parallel legal structures created by the New Jersey Legislature therefore no longer provide same-sex couples with equal access to the rights and benefits enjoyed by married heterosexual couples.”
Judge Jacobson said that the current inequality “offends” the New Jersey Constitution, violates equal treatment mandated by the state high court, “and is not compatible with a reasonable conception of basic human dignity.”
She added: “Any doctrine urging caution in constitutional adjudication is overcome but such a clear denial of equal treatment.”
State officials are expected to appeal and seek a stay of the judge’s Oct. 21 marriage order.
Gay rights groups hailed the decision as an important step forward.
“We’ve won a great victory today, and there’s no turning back,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality.
“This news is thrilling,” added Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director of Lambda Legal, which filed the lawsuit.
“We argued that limiting lesbians and gay men to civil union is unfair and unconstitutional, and now the Court has agreed,” she said in a statement.
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, praised the ruling. “Today’s court decision affirms what loving and committed couples in New Jersey have known all along: civil union is no substitute for the protections and dignity of marriage,” he said.
“Now that civil unions have been proven unconstitutional in the court of law, it’s time for the Legislature to act quickly,” he said.
He said his group and others would be working to assemble the votes needed to override Governor Christie’s veto of same-sex marriage legislation.
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