Hours after same-sex couples began marrying in New Jersey, shortly after midnight on Monday, Republican Gov. Chris Christie announced he would abandon his fight over a court ruling legalizing marriage equality in the Garden State.
According to PolitickerNJ, Christie advised the state's Attorney General John Hoffman to submit a letter to the New Jersey Supreme Court formally announcing his administration would drop its appeal of a lower court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. The letter was received by the state’s highest court this morning.
In a unanimous opinion delivered by the chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court on Friday, the court denied a stay requested by the Christie administration to put on hold a ruling by a lower court to permit same-sex marriage in the Garden State while the case is appealed. While not a final ruling in the case, which was expected to hear oral arguments early next year, many looked to the 7-0 decision denying the stay as a preview of how the New Jersey Supreme Court could rule when they reached the merits of the case. The Christie administration appeared to agree.
"Chief Justice Stuart Rabner left no ambiguity about the unanimous court's view on the ultimate decision in this matter when he wrote, ‘same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today,’" a Christie spokesman said Monday. “Although the Governor strongly disagrees with the Court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the Court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law. The Governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his Administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”
The decision to drop the appeal by Christie, who has said he personally opposes same-sex marriage but believes the issue should be left up to voters, is the latest development in a rapidly moving legal battle for marriage rights in New Jersey.
Friday's ruling denying the stay, which paved the way for same-sex marriages to begin today, came 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 plaintiffs in the case, brought by Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, who argued the U.S. Supreme Court's broad June ruling in the Defense of Marriage Act case had thus led to the denial of equal protection to New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions.
Efforts to legalize same-sex marriage through the enactment of legislation have continued as well 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 — a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 — to veto that bill under the argument that same-sex marriage is an issue that should be decided by voters at the ballot box.
[Photo: Chris Christie. Credit: Office of the Governor.]