Judge: Gay Couples in New Jersey Can Marry As Early As October 21

Update 10/2/2013: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will seek to delay the October 21 date set for same-sex marriage to start and wants the state Supreme Court to fast-track an appeal in the case, according to a letter sent to the justices today by acting state Attorney General John Hoffman.

Same-sex marriage could be legal New Jersey as early as October 21, according to the historic ruling handed down Friday by Judge Mary Jacobson of State Superior Court in Mercer County.

The case she ruled on — Garden State Equality v. Dow — involves six gay couples and their children who had appealed for their right to marry because the state’s system of civil unions for same-sex couples denies them federal tax benefits and legal protections. As you may recall, the U.S. Supreme Court made these federal benefits and protections accessible to married same-sex couples this past June when they struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

In her 53-page explanation of why she felt it urgent to provide gay couples with the equal right to marry, Jacobson was clear, “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. “Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution.”

Among the examples she provided to justify the legalization of gay marriage in New Jersey, Judge Jacobson noted that couples in civil unions may not be protected by the Family Medical Leave Act or have access to the same federal tax benefits as married couples.

What’s next after this ruling? Governor Chris Christie released word on Friday that he would appeal the ruling. He also stated that the best way to settle the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage is to hold a statewide vote. “My view on it is, put it on the ballot. Let the people decide,” Christie said in an appearance on CBS Sunday Morning over the weekend (via NJ.com).

If Christie does appeal, there is another avenue to making sure Jacobson’s ruling sticks. The New Jersey State Legislature has until January 2014 to override Christie’s veto of the 2012 marriage equality bill. Doing so would negate the need for a referendum and make any appeal of Jacobson’s ruling a legal moot point.

What does all this mean for you? We will be watching this case carefully, especially when it comes to the October 21 start date Jacobson issued for allowing gay marriages to be legally performed in the state.

If you are currently in a New Jersey civil union with your partner, you may be wondering what all this means for you. Looking at examples from Vermont and other states that transitioned from civil unions to legal same-sex marriage, we can see that civil unions have still been recognized after marriage equality laws went into effect, with couples receiving the option to automatically dissolve the civil union upon their marriage. In cases where the couple decided to stay in the civil union without marrying, the same rules remained in place for what civil unions could and could not cover, including the need to legally dissolve the union should the couple decide to end their relationship and enforcement of any pre-civil union agreements.

As more becomes known about any changes in New Jersey, we will provide breaking news and other relevant information here on our blog and across our social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.