Gay marriage can begin in New Jersey, for now, state's top court rules (+video)
The New Jersey Supreme Court said Friday that same-sex couples in the state could wed, starting Monday, while an appeal to same-sex marriage is pending. The court's sharp tone indicates that the justices are likely, in the end, to affirm gay marriage rights for good.
The New Jersey Supreme Court on Friday opened the way for the first time for gay and lesbian couples in the state to get married starting next Monday, Oct. 21.Skip to next paragraph
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With a stroke of the judicial pen, New Jersey joined 13 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex couples to marry.
The 7-to-0 ruling is only preliminary, with the court set to hear arguments on the merits of the case in early January. But the sharp tone of Friday’s 20-page opinion leaves little doubt that the justices are likely to uphold an earlier judge’s ruling that the New Jersey constitution requires that the state permit same-sex couples to marry.
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“We find that the compelling public interest in this case is to avoid violations of the constitutional guarantee of equal treatment for same-sex couples,” the court said. “The state argues that we should give the democratic process a chance to play out rather than act now. When courts face questions that have far-reaching social implications, there is a benefit to letting the political process and public discussion proceed first,” the court noted.
But the justices added: “When a party presents a clear case of ongoing unequal treatment, and asks the court to vindicate constitutionally-protected rights, a court may not sidestep its obligations to rule for an indefinite amount of time.”
“Under those circumstances, courts do not have the option to defer,” they said.
The issue was not whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. That will be decided after January’s argument session. The issue on Friday was simply whether same-sex couples could begin getting married before the court hears the appeal.
Nonetheless, gay rights activists were quick to praise the court’s actions as historic and important.
“Next Monday will be a historic day for New Jersey,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU-NJ.
“The Supreme Court has recognized what we all know – that marriage equality is the only path forward for New Jersey,” he said. “Civil unions prevent loving and committed same-sex couples from being treated equally. They never have been and never will be equal to marriage.”
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said the decision is another step not only toward equal rights for gay and lesbian couples but also toward full acceptance in American society.
“Every day, every wedding, every protection made available will show that families are helped and no one is hurt when gay couples share in the freedom to marry,” Mr. Wolfson said in a statement.
The high court case stems from a challenge to New Jersey’s civil union law. That law provides that gay couples must be afforded all the rights and privileges of opposite-sex married couples, although without the label of marriage.
In 2011, six same-sex couples and a gay rights group, Garden State Equality, filed suit challenging the civil union law. They argued that it fails to provide equal treatment.
The case moved into high gear last summer after the US Supreme Court struck down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That law had barred same-sex married couples from receiving 1,200 federal benefits available to heterosexual couples.