New Jersey Judge Rules Gay Marriage Legal, Orders it to Begin

A New Jersey judge has ruled that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection under the state constitution and ordered them to begin by October 21st.

New Jersey would be the 14th state (plus D.C.) with marriage equality.

The ruling is likely to be appealed.

MaryAP: "In a summary judgment issued Friday, Judge Mary Jacobson says now that the federal government recognizes gay marriages, not doing so in New Jersey would violate the state constitution."

NBC New York:

Judge Mary Jacobson granted a summary judgment requested by Garden State Equality, which had claimed that the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of the federal Defense of Marriage Act meant that same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey were being denied equal protection. reports:

The gay rights groups Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal had argued that after the U.S. Supreme Court extended more than 1,000 tax and inheritance benefits to same-sex couples in June, New Jersey was left behind with second-class civil unions.

Jacobson, the head judge in Mercer County, agreed.

"The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts," she wrote.

For example, the judge said, "civil union partners who are federal employees living in New Jersey are ineligible for marital rights with regard to the federal pension system, all civil union partners who are employees working for businesses to which the Family and Medical Leave Act applies may not rely on its statutory protections for spouses, and civil union couples may not access the federal tax benefits that married couples enjoy."

Jacobson was asked to square the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June striking down the Defense of Marriage Act with New Jersey's own legal precedents.

Said Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director Hayley Gorenberg:

The Supreme Court opened the door to federal benefits, and now the Court in New Jersey has ruled that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. This news is thrilling. We argued that limiting lesbians and gay men to civil union is unfair and unconstitutional, and now the Court has agreed. The end of DOMA made the freedom to marry even more urgent than before because the state stood between these families and a host of federal protections, benefits, rights and responsibilities. With this ruling, our clients and all of New Jersey’s same-sex couples are at the threshold of the freedom to marry.

NjTowleroad's Jacob Combs wrote about Jacobson's hearings in the case back in August.

A New Jersey state court judge in Trenton today expressed skepticism towards state officials' claims in defense of New Jersey's decision to offer civil unions but not equal marriage rights to same-sex couples, particularly in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act.

In questions posed to lawyers from both sides, however, Judge Mary Jacobson (pictured below) showed hesitation towards moving too fast on a constitutional issue of such importance, asking for further briefing and telling lawyers not to expect a ruling until next month at the earliest.

"Federalism is messy," the judge said matter-of-factly early on during the proceedings, succinctly summing up the complexities present in the legal challenge, known as Garden State Equality v. Dow and brought by Lambda Legal, an LGBT legal advocacy group.

Read his full report here.

Today's ruling below:

Decision Summary Judgment by towleroad


  1. Joe says

    It’s about time! Christie, get your fat ass in gear and immediately see to it, along with the legislature, that this decision is fully implemented.

  2. Zlick says

    All well and good, but I don’t see how the “head judge in Mercer County” can decide this for the entire state of New Jersey. What’s going on with the NJ Supreme Court case there? When last I heard, the pro-equal-marriage lawyers were going back to court in the post DOMA world to point out civil unions obviously no longer meet the requirements of the ruling made by that Supreme Court some years back.

  3. simon says

    That means gay marriage is coming to NJ in less than a month? Is Christi going to appeal the decision?

  4. simon says

    Illinois also has civil union. It means that Illinois’s court is likely to come to the same conclusion and equal marriage will soon be decided by the court and not the legislatures?

  5. Francis #1 says

    Yes, Chris Christie is appealing it, so no, marriage equality isn’t coming to Jersey next month. It *is* coming though.

    This ruling, regardless of Christie’s upcoming appeal, again proves how DOMA being struck down has changed the game. Now it’s the states that are on the defensive. Exciting times.

  6. David From Canada says

    Chris Christie tried to bribe the judge by offering her 2 transport trucks full of Hostess Twinkies but she refused.

  7. Bruno says

    Zlick…this is the case. I think since the NJ SC wanted there to be a trial record a few years back, they went to a Superior Court for summary judgment instead of directly to the SC. This is the case that will be the decider at the NJ SC, if it’s appealed (which it will be).

  8. says

    We need an across-the-board decision by the Federal Government. Here in TN, they’ve gone as far as to create a new holiday- “Traditional Marriage Day” in which the wording of the bill quotes The Holy Bible. Why does the State feel it has the right to continually define marriage? Exactly what is “Traditional” Marriage in Tennessee seeing as even Interracial Marriage is STILL outlawed by the State Constitution along with Same Sex Marriage?

  9. Jere says

    The state may appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court, but I doubt that Chris Christie will take an active part in the process. He just wants to be able to say to the tea party wing of the GOP that he did everything he personally could to stop marriage equality, which he did. Then, when he runs for President, he’ll at least have a shot with the far right. I doubt that Chris Christie cares one way or another about this issue; I don’t think he’s really put any thought into it beyond the politics of it.

  10. anon says

    This is getting messy since they are close to overturning his veto in the Assembly. There are also more than a few court cases active in the state, which means that the rulings might not mesh properly. This ruling will almost certainly be held back until after the election.

  11. RonCharles says

    Let’s just hope that the higher court simply refuses to entertain an appeal. That would settle this matter and likely have an impact in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Mexico, as well.

  12. says

    An obvious (and obviously correct) decision since the Christie administration’s arguments were absurdly weak. Let’s hope for a speedy appeals process since the writing is on the wall for NJ and any delay (which is really about the big guy’s political ambitions) is a pure waste of time and money at the expense of NJ gay couples.

  13. Fox says

    In states like NJ that went the civil union route, this will probably be how it goes, ‘cuz seperate but equal just don’t fly.

  14. Rich says

    I am missing something. The Federal Government is basing its determination of marital status on “state of celebration”. The Department of Defense is even allowing servicemembers leave to travel to a state that will let them marry the partner of their choice. The Federal Government does not recognize civil unions as a change in civil status.

    There is nothing (Ari, correct me if I’m wrong) to prevent two people from obtaining a civil union in New Jersey and a marriage license in New York. If they do that, the Feds will treat them as married for most Federal purposes and the State of New Jersey will grant them all the rights and privileges that it accords to married couples by virtue of their civil union.

    In short, there is a PATHway to equality.

  15. Steve says

    @Rich – It is even simpler than that. A NJ couple need only marry in any of the marriage equality states. That automatically grants them civil union status in NJ, without a separate license or ceremony. In fact, getting two licenses, a civil union license in NJ and a marriage license in another state, complicates matters if they ever separate – they would need to get both a divorce in a marriage equality state AND a court ordered dissolution of their CU in New Jersey. But many New Jerseyans want to get married at home and want the full status of marriage within their home state, so the battle for full equality will continue.