Breaking News – Monday, October 21, 2013: Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey announced today that his administration would drop its legal challenge to allowing gay marriage in the state. Mr. Christie had sought a stay to prevent the marriages from taking place starting on October 21, as the court had ordered. But the Governor’s petition was denied and the first couples across the state were married just after midnight on Monday, October 21st.
On September 27, 2013, a New Jersey trial court judge issued a decision requiring the State of New Jersey to allow same-sex couples to get married. On October 10, 2013, the same judge cleared the way for same-sex marriages to start in New Jersey on Monday, October 21, 2013, dismissing the state’s request to prevent the weddings until after an appeal of the court’s decision. It is the first time a court has struck down a state’s refusal to legalize same-sex marriage, as a direct result of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Windsor case last summer.
In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided in Lewis v. Harris that same -sex couples were entitled to the same state rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples. The Lewis court held that the New Jersey Constitution required the state to either grant same-sex couples the right to marry or create a parallel structure that allowed those couples to obtain all the same rights and benefits available to opposite-sex married couples. As a result of Lewis, the state passed the Civil Union Act, which granted same-sex couples who entered into a civil union all the rights and benefits of a married person under state law.
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that required the federal government to interpret the word “spouse” (as that word appears in federal laws and regulations) to mean only opposite-sex spouses. But, the Windsor decision left the decision of whether to legalize same-sex marriage to the states. As a result, only same sex couples who are married in states (or foreign countries) that legalized same-sex marriage will benefit from the Supreme Court’s decision. The Supreme Court decision, however, found no constitutional basis to treat domestic or civil union partners as “spouses” for purposes of federal law.
Under the Supreme Court decision, same-sex couples validly wed outside of New Jersey, but who live in New Jersey, are considered “married” in the eyes of the federal government. Because civil union partners in New Jersey don’t enjoy that same status, the New Jersey court held that “same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law.” And, unless the state appeals court grants a stay in the next few days, same-sex couples in New Jersey can be married starting on Monday, October 21st.