N.J. Supreme Court’s Ruling Legalizes Same-sex Marriage

Court Denied Christie’s Request for Delay

Starting at 12:01 a.m. on October 21, same-sex couples in New Jersey will finally be able to wed, the Supreme Court ruled on October 18, 2013. The Court denied the Christie’s Administration’s request to delay a lower court order that the state recognize gay marriage.

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From Civil Unions to Gay Marriage

With the ruling, New Jersey becomes the fourteenth state (the others are mostly in the Northeast (with the exception of Iowa and California) to permit gay weddings. Before this announcement today, New Jersey had civil unions. Governor Chris Christie was not in favor of court-ordered legalization of same-sex marriage, but wanted the issue settled by popular vote in November.

A Republican, Christie appealed the decision last month by a judge in the lower court that ruled that New Jersey must recognize same-sex marriage and set October 21 as the opening day for gay weddings. Christie, hoping for a delay (stay) in the lower court ruling that stated that New Jersey must recognize gay marriage while the state appeals, was denied his request.

Judge Rabner’s Decision

The Court said in an opinion by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, “the state has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: Same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today. The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative.” Judge Rabner wrote that the state has not shown that it is likely to prevail in the case. She also rejected the state’s argument that it was in the public interest not to allow marriages until the court has had more time to rule fully on the issue. “But when a party presents a clear case of unequal treatment, and asks the court of vindicate constituionalily protected rights, a court may not sidestep its obligation to rule for an indefinite amount of time. Under these circumstances, courts do not have the option to defer. Like Judge Jacobson ( of the lower court ruling), we can find no public interest in depriving a group of New Jersey residents of their constitutional right to equal protection while the appeal process unfolds.”

Uncertainities of The New Law

What would happen to the status of same-sex marriages if it later decides that the state does not have to grant the marriages? The court did not address that question. Oral arguments are expected on January 6 or 7. In the interim, The State Health Department, according to Christie, will help towns carry out New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruling.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated key parts of a federal law that prevented the federal government from recognizing gay couples. Within a month, several states, including New Jersey, “jumped on the bandwagon” and filed suits on behalf of their clients for gay marriage and federal protections such as survivor benefits and joint filing of tax returns.

Governor Christie vetoed a gay marriage bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage in 2012. To overide the veto, the Legislature has until January 14 to act .

Gay Rights Groups Want 72-Hr. Waiting Period Waived

Garden State Equality, the gay rights group, has been seeking judges who would waive the seventy-two waiting period. Said Hayley Gorenberg, a Lambda Legal lawyer, “the applications should be flowing and the licenses should be granted and people should be allowed to marry freely. The Court has unanimously said my clients and the people of New Jersey don’t need to wait.”

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