Same sex marriage has been a hot button topic in society and the legal world. The debate intensified after 2 U.S. Supreme Court rulings and a very recent New Jersey trial court ruling.
In June of this year, the Supreme Court of the United States made the 2 rulings favoring same sex marriage. First, the high court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to same sex couples married under state law, and held that federal benefits to gay married couples should be the same as they are for heterosexual married couples. Second, it declined to review a state court ruling that found Proposition 8, a voter initiative that ended same-sex marriage in the state of California, unconstitutional, which effectively permitted same sex marriages in that state. However, the U.S. Supreme Court did not determine whether there was a constitutional right to same sex marriages.
Now, in New Jersey, it is. On September 27, 2013, a New Jersey trial court judge, using the U.S. Supreme Court decisions as a foundation, ruled that New Jersey was unconstitutionally denying federal benefits to same sex couples, and that the state must allow same sex couples to marry in order for these couples to obtain equal protection of the law under the state constitution. The ruling was to become effective on October 21.
Governor Chris Christie’s Administration sought to appeal the decision and to delay the October 21 start date until the court process was completed. However, the trial court judge denied the Christie Administration’s request to delay the start date. This denial was upheld by the New Jersey Supreme Court which found that no harm would come by allowing same sex couples to marry and that same sex couples who are not allowed to marry are not being treated equally under the law. The Christie administration has since dropped its appeal of the decision, allowing New Jersey to become the fourteenth state to recognize same sex marriage.
Since the court’s ruling has become effective, there has been an eruption of same sex weddings throughout the state of New Jersey. While many have rejoiced in the court’s ruling, others do not approve of the court’s decision since they believe that legalization of same sex marriages should be left to the state’s legislature or through a direct vote of the people. It’s highly unlikely that the state legislature will take any action overturn the ruling. This expansion of the right to marry is here to stay. With the assistance of Charles J. Vaccaro, J.D. Candidate May 2015.