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.
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Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.