NJ judge rules in favor of marriage, bringing renewed urgency to legislative action

Today, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson in New Jersey issued a ruling in Garden State Equality et. al. v. Dow, et. al., a federal lawsuit challenging the state's civil union law and seeking the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. The judge ruled in favor of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in New Jersey, and unless the decision is appealed, marriages would begin in the state on October 21, 2013. It's a big day for marriage in NJ, and Freedom to Marry congratulate the plaintiffs involved in the case. 

The Superior Court Judge cited the 2006 decision in Lewis, a case in the NJ Supreme Court that declared that the NJ legislature must extend equal protection to the relationships of same-sex couples, whether that was through marriage or some other form of family status. New Jersey, in response, created the lesser status of civil union, which provides many of the protections of marriage in the state but none of the respect or federal protections of marriage. Now that the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act has been struck down and married couples - but not couples joined in civil union - are eligible for federal protections of marriage, Judge Jacobsen found that the civil union law is unconstitutional. She wrote:

Since the United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, several federal agencies have acted to extend marital benefits to same-sex married couples. However, the majority of those agencies have not extended eligibility for those benefits to civil union couples. As a result, 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. Whereas before Windsor same-sex couples in New Jersey would have been denied federal benefits regardless of what their relationship was called, these couples are now denied benefits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the State.

The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts ... And if the trend of federal agencies deeming civil union partners ineligible for benefits continues, plaintiffs will suffer even more, while their opposite-sex New Jersey counterparts continue to receive federal marital benefits for no reason other than the label placed upon their relationships by the State.

This unequal treatment requires that New Jersey extend civil marriage to same-sex couples to satisfy the equal protection guarantees of the New Jersey Constitution as interpreted by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis. Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution. 

Read the full ruling HERE

Now that the lower court has found that the New Jersey civil union law is unconstitutional, it is imperative that the New Jersey legislature act quickly to pass a marriage bill. Every day that same-sex couples are denied the freedom to marry is a real burden to NJ families, who are already doing the work of marriage. If the ruling is appealed, as is expected, securing the votes to overturn Gov. Christie's veto of the marriage bill will remain the quickest path toward the freedom to marry for all loving and committed couples in the state. 

New Jersey United for Marriage is the campaign working to override Gov. Christie's veto in the legislature. Freedom to Marry is proud to serve as a leading and founding member of NJ United for Marriage.

Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson applauded Judge Jacobsen's ruling today while urging the legislature to act without delay. He said:

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. Every day of denial in New Jersey is an emotional and tangible burden on same-sex couples and their families. Now that civil union has been proven unconstitutional in the court of law, it’s the time for the legislature to act quickly. As a lead partner of NJ United for Marriage, Freedom to Marry is working hard to secure the votes needed to override Governor Christie’s veto on New Jersey’s freedom to marry legislation so that the long wait ends for committed couples in the Garden State.

Learn more about the freedom to marry in New Jersey, and check out New Jersey United for Marriage.