A New Jersey judge says the state must allow gay couples to marry, because the current system of civil unions is unconstitutional.
To deny couples the right to marry runs afoul the New Jersey constitution and the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution, the court found.
"Judge Mary Jacobson in Mercer County Superior Court in Trenton issued the order as part of long-running litigation brought by a group of gay couples against the state.
"New Jersey, which can appeal the ruling, would become the 14th state to permit gay marriage. The District of Columbia has also legalized same-sex marriage."
The legal reasoning for the case is interesting. In her opinion, Jacobson relies on the Supreme Court's United States v. Windsor decision, which invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
As a result of that case many federal agencies have extended benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Remember, New Jersey had already approved civil unions. But the judge explains that civil unions are not seen as equal to marriage by the Feds, so they do not give couples access to some federal benefits like pensions and family leave that married straight couples and gay couples receive.
"This unequal treatment requires that New Jersey extend civil marriage to same-sex couples to satisfy the equal protection guarantees of the New Jersey Constitution as interpreted by the New Jersey Supreme Court... Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection under the New Jersey Constitution," Jacobson wrote.
Update at 12:23 p.m. PT. An appeal is likely:
The New Jersey Star-Ledger says the state will likely appeal this ruling. The paper reports:
"Gov. Chris Christie's administration had argued that the matter was out of New Jersey's hands since the only pressing questions were over federal, not state, benefits.
"Jacobson's ruling represents a victory for gay-rights advocates, although the decision is expected to be appealed: first to an intermediate court, and then to the state Supreme Court."