The Freedom to Marry in New Jersey

Winning Marriage: October 21, 2013

Same-sex couples began marrying in New Jersey on October 21, 2013 after Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson issued a ruling in favor of the freedom to marry in Garden State Equality v. Dow on October 18, 2013. The New Jersey Supreme Court refused to issue a stay on the ruling and Governor Chris Christie withdrew his appeal of the decision, allowing the freedom to marry to take effect uncontested. Read the ruling.

History and the Path to Victory:

  • March 5, 2004: Mayor D. Kiki Tomek of Asbury Park, NJ begins issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Dozens of couples receive marriage licenses in the next few days, spurring the conversation around the freedom to marry and emphasizing that no one is hurt when same-sex couples are married. The action, while not legally binding, reflects the national excitement around the freedom to marry.
  • July 10, 2004: A law allowing same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnership takes effect in New Jersey. The law had previously been approved by the New Jersey Legislature.
  • October 26, 2006: The New Jersey Supreme Court rules that treating same-sex couples differently from different-sex couples violates the state constitution and orders the NJ Legislature to enact either the freedom to marry or all of the protections that marriage provides.
  • February 19, 2007: A law allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil union takes effect when the New Jersey Legislature fails to embrace the freedom to marry, falling short and settling on civil union.  
  • 2007-2011: As Americans nationwide engage in conversations about why marriage matters, national and local advocates in New Jersey take strides toward increasing understanding of same-sex couples and their families.
  • June 2011: Lambda Legal files a legal case in state court seeking the freedom to marry in New Jersey, Garden State Equality v. Dow. The lawsuit challenges the law that created the lesser status of civil unions for same-sex couples instead of marriage. Read the initial complaint.
  • February 17, 2012: Governor Chris Christie vetoes the freedom to marry following passage of a marriage bill by both houses of the New Jersey Legislature.
  • March 26, 2013: Polling in New Jersey tracks majority support for the freedom to marry, reflecting the power of the national discussion of why marriage matters.
  • July 25, 2013: New Jersey United for Marriage, the campaign to win the freedom to marry in New Jersey, launches on a two-track strategy: Support litigation work to win marriage, and gather support from New Jersey legislators to pass a marriage bill with a veto-proof majority. 
  • September 27, 2013: Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson rules in favor of the freedom to marry. Judge Mary Jacobson denies Governor Chris Christie’s request for a stay in the decision. Read the ruling.
  • October 18, 2013: The New Jersey Supreme Court denies Governor Chris Christie’s request for a stay, and shortly after, the Governor drops his appeal of the ruling, allowing the freedom to marry to take effect once and for all on October 21, 2013.
  • June 26, 2015: The United States Supreme Court rules in favor of the freedom to marry, ending marriage discrimination across the country.

Groups That Actively Worked on Marriage

  • New Jersey United for Marriage is the statewide coalition that worked to pass the freedom to marry in the NJ state legislature by overriding Gov. Christie's veto.
  • Garden State Equality is the central statewide organization working for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex civil rights in New Jersey.
  • The ACLU of New Jersey works in the courts and in the statehouse to protect the rights and liberties of all New Jerseyans, including the freedom to marry.
  • Lambda Legal is the United States' first legal organization dedicated to achieving full equality for gay and lesbian people. Lambda Legal was counsel in the Garden State Equality case.
  • Freedom to Marry was the campaign to win marriage for same-sex couples nationwide.