How New Jersey Used the DOMA Ruling to Legalize Gay Marriage

Could other states do the same?

This summer, advocates for gay marriage in New Jersey gather outside the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J., saying they'll press their case after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
National Journal
Marina Koren
See more stories about...
Marina Koren
Sept. 27, 2013, 12:25 p.m.

A New Jer­sey judge ruled Fri­day to leg­al­ize gay mar­riage in the state, or­der­ing state of­fi­cials to start of­fi­ci­at­ing same-sex mar­riages next month. The de­cision may be short-lived, as Gov. Chris Christie, who has long said he would veto any gay-mar­riage bill, is likely to seek an ap­peal. But the ar­gu­ment be­hind the rul­ing could provide in­di­vidu­als out­side of the Garden State with a mod­el for pe­ti­tion­ing their own state gov­ern­ments for mar­riage equal­ity.

Two court de­cisions lie at the heart of the case. The first is this sum­mer’s Su­preme Court rul­ing that found the De­fense of Mar­riage Act — which pre­ven­ted the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment from ex­tend­ing be­ne­fits to same-sex mar­riages — un­con­sti­tu­tion­al. The second is Lewis v. Har­ris, a 2006 de­cision by New Jer­sey’s highest court that ruled civil uni­ons must be af­forded the same leg­al rights as oth­er mar­ried couples. What both of the de­cisions have in com­mon is that they ruled same-sex couples were en­titled to cer­tain rights and be­ne­fits af­forded to op­pos­ite-sex mar­ried couples.

The case, it seems, all comes down to lan­guage. Ba­sic­ally, since the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment ex­tends rights to mar­ried same-sex couples the same way New Jer­sey’s state gov­ern­ment ex­tends rights to same-sex couples in civil uni­ons, those un­mar­ried in­di­vidu­als should have the right to marry. Oth­er­wise, New Jer­sey’s civil uni­on law is block­ing cit­izens from re­ceiv­ing fed­er­al be­ne­fits.

“If the trend of fed­er­al agen­cies deem­ing civil uni­on part­ners in­eligible for be­ne­fits con­tin­ues, plaintiffs will suf­fer even more, while their op­pos­ite-sex New Jer­sey coun­ter­parts con­tin­ue to re­ceive fed­er­al mar­it­al be­ne­fits for no reas­on oth­er than the la­bel placed upon their re­la­tion­ships by the state,” Su­per­i­or Court Judge Mary Jac­ob­son wrote in her de­cision.

Sim­il­ar le­gis­la­tion in Col­or­ado, Hawaii, and Illinois provides civil uni­ons with the same rights, be­ne­fits, and pro­tec­tions as same-sex mar­ried couples. Le­gis­la­tion that re­cog­nizes do­mest­ic part­ner­ships, grant­ing them sim­il­ar rights and be­ne­fits as same-sex mar­riages, ex­ists in Cali­for­nia, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton, and Wis­con­sin as well as the Dis­trict of Columbia. It’s too soon to tell if Fri­day’s rul­ing will set in mo­tion the leg­al­iz­a­tion of gay mar­riage in New Jer­sey, but it may spur oth­er parts of the coun­try to ex­am­ine their own ver­sions of Lewis.

What We're Following See More »
WORDS AND PICTURES
White House Looks Back on bin Laden Mission
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
NO BATTLE OVER SEATTLE
SCOTUS Won’t Hear Appeal of Minimum-Wage Law
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a sweeping constitutional challenge to Seattle’s minimum wage law, in what could have been a test case for future legal attacks on similar measures across the country. In a one-line order, the justices declined to hear a case by the International Franchise Association and a group of Seattle franchisees, which had said in court papers that the city’s gradual wage increase to $15 discriminates against them in a way that violates the Constitution’s commerce clause."

Source:
DOWN TO THE WIRE
Sanders Looks to Right the Ship in Indiana
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

Hillary Clinton may have the Democratic nomination sewn up, but Bernie Sanders apparently isn't buying it. Buoyed by a poll showing them in a "virtual tie," Sanders is "holding three rallies on the final day before the state primary and hoping to pull off a win after a tough week of election losses and campaign layoffs." 

Source:
CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION IN JUNE
DC to Release Draft Constitution as Part of Statehood Push
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"The New Columbia Statehood Commission—composed of five District leaders including Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, and D.C.'s congressional delegation—voted today to publicly release a draft of a new constitution for an eventual state next Friday, at the Lincoln Cottage." It's the first step in a statehood push this year that will include a constitutional convention in June and a referendum in November.

Source:
ALZHEIMER’S OUTCRY
Will Ferrell Bails on Reagan Movie
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

Amid outcry by President Reagan's children, actor Will Ferrell has pulled out of a movie that makes light of Reagan's Alzheimer's disease. A spokesperson for Ferrell said, “The ‘Reagan’ script is one of a number of scripts that had been submitted to Will Ferrell which he had considered. While it is by no means an ‘Alzheimer’s comedy’ as has been suggested, Mr. Ferrell is not pursuing this project."

Source:
×