Status of Same-Sex Marriage in New Jersey

Same- sex marriage is finally a reality not only in New Jersey, but throughout the United States as well. Furthermore, the 2015 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges makes it extremely unlikely that the pendulum will swing back in the other direction.

The following is a timeline highlighting major legal developments in the history of same-sex relationships in New Jersey since the enactment of the New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act nearly a decade ago.

attorneys will continue to keep you informed of news in this rapidly developing area of the law. Check back here often for updates!

July 10, 2004: Effective date of New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act. The Act provides limited rights to domestic partners, including same-sex partners, who file an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership with the state. Certified Domestic partners assume joint responsibility for each other’s basic living expenses and common welfare during the legal relationship, but do not automatically share assets and debts acquired during the relationship and have no rights to alimony on dissolution. Certified domestic partners gain the same rights under state law as married partners with respect to tax treatment, visitation and decision-making in health care settings, health and pension benefits from state employers, and intestate inheritance.

October 25, 2006: The New Jersey Supreme Court decides, in the case of Lewis v. Harris, that same-sex couples in New Jersey must be granted all the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples, but the Court stops short of directing the state to allow same-sex marriage, leaving it to the legislature to decide how best to address the issue.

February 19, 2007: The New Jersey legislature responds to the Lewis directive by enacting the New Jersey Civil Union Law. This law grants same-sex couples the right to enter into legally recognized relationships conferring the same basic rights granted to married heterosexual couples. The Act also amends the Domestic Partnership Act to allow only couples 62 years of age or older (whether opposite-sex or same-sex) to enter into new domestic partnerships. A current domestic partnership remains valid unless the partners pursue dissolution or enter into a civil union, which would automatically terminate the domestic partnership. Gay rights advocates assert that civil unions are not equal to marriage and continue to call for the right to marry.

February 16, 2012: A bill, S1, legalizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey, passes both houses of the legislature.

February 17, 2012: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie immediately vetoes the bill, arguing that the issue should be decided by the people of New Jersey through the voting process. Advocates work to convince state lawmakers to override Christie’s veto in a special session. The deadline for the override is January 14, 2014.

June 26, 2013: The U.S. Supreme Court issues a decision in United States v. Windsor, declaring that if a state legalizes same-sex marriage, the federal government cannot deny benefits to same-sex couples legally married in that state. The decision strikes down of a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It does not direct the federal government to confer any benefits on couples in state civil unions or domestic partnerships, and does not alter the authority of states to decide independently whether or not to permit same-sex marriage.

Sept. 27, 2013: New Jersey Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson issues a decision in the case of Garden State Equality vs. Dow, directing state officials in New Jersey to allow same-sex couples to marry. Judge Jacobson bases the opinion on a denial of equal protection under the state constitution to same-sex couples, as evidenced by the hundreds of federal benefits being granted to married same-sex couples in in the wake of the Windsor decision. The New Jersey judiciary has posted Judge Jacobson’s opinion, as well as other documents filed in this landmark same-sex marriage case, on its web site.

October 11, 2013: The New Jersey Supreme Court grants the State of New Jersey’s request for direct certification of the lower court decision in Garden State Equality, assumes jurisdiction over the State’s request for a stay of the order directing officials to allow same-sex marriages, and sets a calendar for the appeal in the case. The Court will hear oral arguments in the appeal on January 6-7, 2014.

October 18, 2013: The New Jersey Supreme Court declines to issue a stay in the implementation of Judge Jacobson’s order, indicating that the State failed to show how it would be harmed by following the directive. While the final decision on the appeal will come later, the denial of the stay indicates that the New Jersey Supreme Court does not feel that the State has “a reasonable probability of success on the merits” of the appeal.

October 21, 2013: Same-sex marriages begin at 12:01 a.m. on a provisional basis pending final review of Garden State Equality vs. Dow by The New Jersey Supreme Court.

October 21, 2013: Later on the same morning that same-sex marriages begin in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie drops the State’s appeal of the ruling in Garden State Equality, definitively ending the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples in New Jersey.

June 26, 2015: The U.S. Supreme Court issues a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, declaring that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry in all 50 states. Following Obergefell, all states are now required to allow same-sex marriages, and same-sex and opposite-sex married couples are entitled to all of the same state and federal benefits throughout the United States.