The attorney general for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie asked a state judge in an emergency request to delay implementation of her ruling that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson in Trenton ruled Sept. 27 that the state’s civil-union law was unconstitutional, and same-sex marriages should begin Oct. 21. Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman asked Jacobson today to put the ruling on hold while his office appeals directly to the state Supreme Court.
Jacobson ruled in favor of Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, which represents six same-sex couples and their children. The judge ruled after the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 struck down a federal law denying benefits to same-sex married couples. Hoffman said the state Legislature passed a civil union law in 2006 that retains the name marriage for heterosexual couples.
“If the court single-handedly, without guiding precedent and without input from the Supreme Court, reverses this course and overrides the intent of the democratically elected branch, the state will suffer irreparable harm,” according to Hoffman’s motion.
The judge should allow the Supreme Court, “the ultimate arbiter of substantial constitutional issues, to definitively determine the contested issue and allow that court, if it deems necessary, to take the drastic step of rejecting on constitutional grounds” a state law, according to the motion.
Hoffman disputed the judge’s ruling that the state must begin issuing marriage licenses within three weeks, which he said would be “drastic” and “irreversible.” If Jacobson’s ruling is upheld, New Jersey would be the 14th state to allow same-sex marriages.
“Every day that the state does not allow same-sex couples to marry, plaintiffs are being harmed,” Jacobson ruled. “Plaintiffs are ineligible for many federal marital benefits at this moment, and their right to equal protection under the New Jersey Constitution should not be delayed until some undeterminable future time.”
Attorney Lawrence Lustberg, who argued before Jacobson on behalf of Lambda Legal, said he was disappointed that the state is appealing and seeking a stay.
“We will fight it every step of the way,” Lustberg said. “We’re optimistic that under the governing legal standards, the motion for a stay will be denied, and on Oct. 21, same-sex marriages will commence.”
Advocates of same-sex marriage have until Oct. 4 to reply, Jacobson said in an order today. The state has until Oct. 7 to respond. Jacobson said the state waived oral arguments.
Lambda Legal’s deputy legal director, Hayley Gorenberg, said the group expects to prevail.
“We’ll be making the case that we are likely to win and any delay in allowing same-sex couples to marry is too great a hardship to allow a stay,” Gorenberg said today in a statement.
In its motion, signed by Deputy Attorney General Jean P. Reilly, the state argued that Jacobson erred in ruling that federal officials, “over whom the state has no control,” could affect the constitutionality of a state law.
“Under plaintiffs’ theory, state judicial decisions would flip-flop endlessly at the whim of variable federal policies, resulting in chaos and, effectively, the concession that the state constitution has no independent application,” according to the motion.
The case is Garden State Equality v. Dow, L-001729-11, New Jersey Superior Court, Mercer County (Trenton).
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