I’ve been cautiously monitoring the court battle over marriage equality in New Jersey, the place of my birth. As John Gorka says, “I’m from New Jersey, I don’t expect too much,” and so I’ve been skeptical of the positive signs and reluctant to celebrate until it seemed clear that such celebration wasn’t just some cruel illusion. That’s the Jersey way of looking at things.
But I think maybe we can celebrate now.
The state Supreme Court not only cleared the way Friday for the first same-sex weddings while it continues to hear an appeal by Gov. Chris Christie — it flat out rejected the governor’s arguments for opposing gay marriage and stressed that he’s unlikely to win next year when the justices make a final ruling.
In a sweeping, 7-0 opinion written by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, the high court signaled it has already wrestled with the biggest questions at the heart of the case, finding that “same-sex couples in New Jersey are now being deprived of the full rights and benefits the state constitution guarantees” and that the Republican governor “has not shown a reasonable probability of success” as he challenges a lower-court ruling that legalized gay marriage in September.
The justices ruled that gay couples are short-changed by civil unions, the only partnership New Jersey allows them, because a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June extended hundreds of tax and medical benefits to same-sex couples but only if they are in “lawful marriages.”
“Civil-union partners in New Jersey today do not receive the same benefits as married same-sex couples when it comes to family and medical leave, Medicare, tax and immigration matters, military and veterans’ affairs, and other areas,” Rabner wrote. “The state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection is therefore not being met.”
Christie’s administration, Rabner continued, “has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today.”
Legal experts and gay rights advocates said the court, which is due to hear oral arguments in the case the first week of January, has left little doubt about which way it is leaning. Even Justice Anne Patterson, a Republican appointed by Christie, joined Rabner’s opinion, they noted.
For Perry Dane, an expert on same-sex marriage law at Rutgers University in Camden, Rabner’s strong language shows the court is preparing to set in stone what it granted provisionally Friday.