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