On Friday, September 28, State Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson said that New Jersey must allow same-sex marriage, as civil unions deny equal treatment to same-sex couples. Judge Jacobson ruled in favor of Garden State Equality and six same-sex couples, and their children, in a lawsuit brought following the United States Supreme Court’s ruling striking DOMA in June. While Lewis vs. Harris in 2006 legalized civil unions in New Jersey, it was unable to grant same-sex couples full marriage rights afforded to heterosexual married couples. The judge’s ruling requires legalization of same-sex marriage by October 21.
In the suit, the state argued that the federal government denied same-sex couples equal treatment by not explicitly extending rights of married same-sex couples to those in civil unions. In the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted that the ruling was confined to legally married same-sex couples, or same-sex couples married in states like New York or Delaware which have recognized marriage equality. Judge Jacobson rejected the state’s claim saying that New Jersey’s civil unions inherently violate the state constitution’s equal treatment clause by discriminating against same-sex couples. Governor Christie has vowed to the court’s ruling asserting that legalizing same-sex marriage is a matter best left to the ballot.
Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement that, “Civil unions are separate and unequal, particularly in light of this year’s historic Supreme Court term.” He continued, “There are no rational arguments why couples in New Jersey should be relegated to second-class status.”
New Jersey would be the fourteenth state to legalize same sex marriage, and Judge Jacobson is the first judge to rule against a state’s marriage laws in response to the DOMA ruling. As it stands, New Jersey will have marriage equality this month. However, with Governor Christie promising to halt the process, it may not be an easy victory.