Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

October 21, 2013

New Jersey has become the 14th state to recognize same-sex marriage after its state Supreme Court denied a last-ditch appeal from Gov. Chris Christie's administration to delay recognition of such marriages.

In late September, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson had ruled that beginning on October 21, 2013, same-sex couples in the Garden State should be allowed to marry. Garden State Equality v. Dow, L-001729-11 (New Jersey Superior Court, Mercer Cnty., September 27, 2013).

The law took effect at 12:01 a.m. today after a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court refused to set aside Judge Jacobson's order last Friday. Writing for the Court in denying the state's appeal, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said,

"Same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today. The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative."

New Jersey had recognized civil unions since 2006. But following the US Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Windsor, 2013 U.S. LEXIS 4921 (2013), which struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a number of federal agencies extended marital benefits to same-sex couples who are lawfully married but not partners in civil unions. As a result, civil union partners in New Jersey were not receiving the same benefits as married same-sex couples in a number of employment-related areas, including:

  • Family and medical leave;
  • Tax and immigration matters;
  • Military and veterans' affairs; and
  • Medicare.

That led the New Jersey Supreme Court to conclude that the State Constitution's equal protection guarantee was not being met. Marriages began taking place shortly after midnight. The Christie administration announced today it would not appeal further. The administration had been arguing that the issue should be decided by a voter referendum.

New Jersey is now the fourth state in recent months to legalize same-sex marriage, following Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island. The other states where such marriages are legal are:

  • California;
  • Connecticut;
  • Iowa;
  • Maine;
  • Maryland;
  • Massachusetts;
  • New Hampshire;
  • New York;
  • Vermont; and
  • Washington.

Same-sex marriage also is recognized in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, three states - Colorado, Hawaii and Illinois - offer civil unions to same-sex couples but, for now, have constitutional provisions limiting marriage to one man and one woman.