After DOMA, Now What? A New Jersey Perspective

lgbtq marriage and parenting rights

The U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has given new energy and fuel to forces within the state working to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey. In the last week, two important developments have developed that seem to have the state edging closer to making changes concerning this issue.

In the first development, within hours of the June 26 ruling, Democratic state lawmakers pledged to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto last year of a bill allowing same-sex marriage in New Jersey. State Senator Barbara Buono, Christie’s Democratic challenger for governor, and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney are taking the lead on this issue, reports.

To get the needed votes, the two called on Republicans to join them in their efforts at a recent press conference in Union County. Republican votes are needed to make a 2/3 override possible. Separately, Sweeney accused Governor Christie of trying to push Republicans into voting against an override of the same-sex marriage bill, a charge which the governor has rejected as untrue.

Separately, Lambda Legal, a gay rights group, filed motion papers last week seeking summary judgment declaring that New Jersey’s restrictions on marriage licenses are unconstitutional. Lambda Legal is the same nonprofit organization that brought the case leading to the 2006 state Supreme Court mandate of equality for gay couples. Currently, same-sex partners are able to seek civil unions in New Jersey.

According to the New Jersey Law Journal (via the WSJ), Lamda Legal is arguing that by striking down DOMA in U.S. v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling, in effect, opens up the full range of federal benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples, including marriage.

“But for Plaintiffs and other same-sex couples in New Jersey who may access only civil union, full federal benefits are not available,” says their brief in Garden State Equality v. Dow, MER-L-1729-11. “[B]y relegating same-sex couples … to civil union, the State denies them equal rights and benefits.”

In their case, the plaintiffs — six couples and their children — have asked Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson to grant them the right to marry immediately in light of the Supreme Court ruling.

In response to this legal move, Judge Jacobson said the state must reply to the motion by Aug. 2. Oral arguments have been scheduled for Aug. 15.

Is it really possible that same-sex marriage be legal in New Jersey by the end of summer? We’re staying on top of this issue and will post updates on our blog, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. In the meantime, if you have any questions about civil unions and domestic partnerships, please don’t hesitate to get in contact.