New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to appeal a court order that found the state must allow same-sex couples to marry as a result of the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision that struck down a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act prohibited federal recognition of legally married same-sex couples and denied more than 1,000 benefits, such as Social Security, pension benefits and preferential tax treatment.
Today's ruling by the Mercer County Superior Court makes New Jersey the first state to respond to the federal ruling by ordering a change in its laws, reports the Star-Ledger.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson granted an emergency request by six gay couples, ordering state officials to begin officiating same-sex marriages on Oct. 21. Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal had argued that after the U.S. Supreme Court extended more than 1,000 tax and inheritance benefits to same-sex couples in June, New Jersey was left behind with "second-class" civil unions that could not reap those legal boons and protections.
Jacobson, the head judge in Mercer County, agreed. "The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts," she wrote.
For example, the judge said, "civil union partners who are federal employees living in New Jersey are ineligible for marital rights with regard to the federal pension system, all civil union partners who are employees working for businesses to which the Family and Medical Leave Act applies may not rely on its statutory protections for spouses, and civil union couples may not access the federal tax benefits that married couples enjoy.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the state could not deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples. The state legislature voted in December of that year to permit civil unions, becoming the third state to do so.
Almost six years after New Jersey began offering civil unions for same-sex couples, the state legislature approved marriage equality legislation in February 2012. Chrisite quickly vetoed the legislation. Legislators are attempting to override the veto before the current session ends in January 2014. The Star-Ledger reports 12 more votes are needed in the Assembly and two more in the Senate.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage. New Jersey would become the fourteenth state.