Same-sex weddings will begin in New Jersey Oct. 21, the state’s highest court ruled Friday in a decision that refused to delay a lower court’s ruling.
In an unanimous opinion delivered by the chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, the court denied a stay requested by the administration of Gov. Chris Christie (R) to put on hold a ruling by a lower court to permit same-sex marriage in the Garden State while the case is appealed.
“Because state law offers same-sex couples civil unions but not the option of marriage, same-sex couples in New Jersey are now being deprived of the full rights and benefits the State Constitution guarantees,” the court ruled, noting the extension of federal benefits after the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in June.
Furthermore, the court ruled the state had not made the necessary case for the stay, nor had the state demonstrated that a stay was in the public’s interest.
“As a result, the trial court’s order dated September 27, 2013 remains in full force and effect,” the court ruled. “State officials shall therefore permit same-sex couples, who are otherwise eligible, to enter into civil marriage beginning on October 21, 2013.”
The New Jersey Supreme Court will not issue a final ruling in the case until next year, and is expected to hear oral arguments in the case in early January.
Friday’s ruling comes after a state court declared last month that same-sex couples “must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution.”
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson’s September ruling sided with the platintiffs in the case, brought by Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, who argued the Supreme Court’s broad June ruling in the Windsor case had thus led to the denial of equal protection to New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions.
“Whereas before Windsor same-sex couples in New Jersey would have been denied federal benefits regardless of what their relationship was called, these couples are now denied benefits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the State,” Jacobson wrote. “The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts.”
Last month’s ruling marked the broadest citation of the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision to date, and the first time a court has struck down a state ban on same-sex marriage as a direct result of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Efforts to legalize same-sex marriage through the enactment of legislation continue in New Jersey despite the pending litigation. Six years after New Jersey began permitting civil unions for same-sex couples, the state Legislature approved marriage equality legislation in February 2012, only for Chrisite to veto that bill under the argument that same-sex marriage is an issue that should be decided by voters at the ballot box.
“While the Supreme Court considers a final ruling in the case over the next several months, the legislature can and should move swiftly to finish the job it began when it passed the freedom to marry bill in 2012,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, in a statement. “Lawmakers should get on the right side of history, overriding the governor’s veto and making the freedom to marry the law of the land in New Jersey for once and for all.”