Officials in New Jersey started granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday morning, thanks to a unanimous order from the state supreme court Friday. Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who has tried to block marriage equality in his state, said he would not stand in the way of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Friday decision and announced the state was withdrawing its appeal.
That order refused to delay a prior ruling last month by Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson, which mandated the state to grant the licenses in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision in United States v. Windsor striking a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that limited certain benefits to opposite-sex married couples. Judge Jacobson’s decision didn’t hold that the New Jersey state constitution guarantees same-sex couples a specific right to marry. Rather, Judge Jacobson ruled, the state cannot constitutionally exclude the option of a civil marriage when same-sex couples are already entitled to all of the benefits of marriage except for the actual ability to marry.
It was that reasoning the New Jersey Supreme Court relied on in refusing to delay her ruling. “The state has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today. The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative,” the New Jersey Supreme Court wrote. As a result, the court declared, “the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection is therefore not being met.”
While the order allows state officials to begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the New Jersey Supreme Court did say it would move forward with reviewing the state’s appeal of Judge Jacobson’s initial decision in January, but that at this time attorneys for the state of New Jersey had not shown a “reasonable possibility” that they will succeed in challenging that ruling.
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New Jersey is now the 14th state, along with the District of Colombia, to recognize marriage equality.