A New Jersey judge has ordered state officials to start recognizing the right of same-sex couples to get married in the Garden State.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that the state’s current system of civil unions is unconstitutional, since it bans gay and lesbian couples in New Jersey from enjoying the benefits of marriage granted by the federal government.
The decision marks the first time that a state ban on gay marriage has been toppled since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June. The order would go into effect on Oct. 21, which gives the state attorney general’s office three weeks to appeal.
New Jersey started allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in 2006. But after the Supreme Court found it illegal to deny federal benefits to gay married couples , New Jersey plaintiffs began arguing that civil unions could no longer guarantee equal treatment.
Jacobson sided with the plaintiffs, pointing out that the label of civil unions “hurt” same-sex couples who want to file joint federal tax returns or use the federal Family Medical Leave Act.
"These couples are now denied benefits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the state," she wrote in a 53-page opinion. "Every day that the state does not allow same-sex couples to marry, plaintiffs are being harmed."
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"I want to shout from the rooftops, but I just have to keep myself in check," said Marcye Nicholson-McFadden, a plaintiff in the case.
The ruling was welcomed by Marcye Nicholson-McFadden, one of the plaintiffs in the case, and her partner of 24 years, Karen Nicholson-McFadden.
"I want to shout from the rooftops, but I just have to keep myself in check," Marcye Nicholson-McFadden, of Aberdeen, said. "At the moment we're just waiting to see what the state will do."
Gov. Chris Christie and the state’s attorney general’s office did not immediately comment on the ruling. Christie has been outspoken about his opposition to gay marriage. In 2012, he has vetoed legislation that would have made same-sex marriage legal in his state.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the only states in the Northeast that don’t allow gay couples to marry.
Ten years ago, same-sex marriages were illegal in all 50 states. Today, gay couples can tie the knot in 13 states.
"The judge has issued a very thorough and powerful opinion that shows the correctness under the constitution of our claims," said Hayley Gorenberg, a Lambda Legal lawyer who prepared the lawsuit. "It shows the deep error the state's been making in refusing to let people marry on an equal basis."