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 »
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
14 hours ago

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, 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.”

Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
15 hours ago

“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.