On Friday, the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied Gov. Chris Christie’s request to stay a lower court’s holding that same-sex marriage must be legalized throughout the state. The unanimous ruling allows for same-sex marriages to begin on Monday. The court will still hear Christie’s appeal next January, but given Friday’s ruling, the governor’s argument clearly stands little chance of success. In short, marriage equality is now law in the Garden State.
And for that, you can thank the U.S. Supreme Court. As I explained several weeks ago, New Jersey has a long and complicated history with marriage equality; in 2006 the state Supreme Court mandated that same-sex partnerships be given all the rights of marriage, but it allowed the state to deny these unions the formal designation of “marriage.” Recently, the legislature attempted to remedy this final inequality by legalizing marriage equality, only to find its efforts vetoed by Gov. Christie.
As of June 2013, then, marriage equality foes and supporters in New Jersey remained locked in a stand-off. Few realized it at the time, but that stand-off was effectively resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor. When it overturned DOMA, the court granted all federal benefits to all married gay couples—meaning New Jersey residents in civil unions remained unrecognized by the federal government. This lack of recognition denied gay couples the full privileges and protections of marriage, in violation of the state Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling.
Unsurprisingly, that’s the precise logic of the state Supreme Court today. In its decision, the court declared that
Windsor... changed the landscape. By striking the part of DOMA that defined marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman,” the United States Supreme Court paved the way to extending federal benefits to married same-sex couples. A number of federal agencies reopened and now provide various benefits to married same-sex couples. Because State law offers same-sex couples civil unions but not the option of marriage, same-sex couples in New Jersey are now being deprived of the full rights and benefits the State Constitution guarantees.
Gay couples in New Jersey who get married on Monday, in other words, can thank Anthony Kennedy. And they probably won’t be the only ones doing so. In the midst of a heated gubernatorial race, Gov. Christie is probably happy to see this issue leave the spotlight for now—not that his opposition to same-sex marriage ever made any sense to begin with.
Update Oct. 21, 2013: Gov. Christie formally withdrew his appeal Monday morning, allowing the lower court's ruling to stand uncontested. Same-sex marriage is officially law in New Jersey.