Oral arguments begin Aug. 15 in Trenton in a case in which several same-sex couples are arguing that the state must offer full marriage equality, instead of its current civil-union system.
The plaintiffs, who first filed suit in 2011, filed a motion last month requesting that a judge issue an immediate order allowing marriage equality, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s finding that a key provision of the federal ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, prompting next week’s proceeding.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the state must treat same-sex couples equal to married couples, prompting the creation of the civil-union system. But the plaintiffs argue that the SCOTUS finding further puts the civil-union system in violation of the 2006 ruling, as same-sex couples in civil unions will continue to be denied federal benefits.
The six same-sex couples serving as plaintiffs are represented by Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal.
Last week, however, the state called on the court to allow a full trial, and urged the judge to give lengthy consideration to the issue.
In a brief filed Aug. 2, the state attorney general’s office cautioned the judge to proceed slowly on the decision, as the full impact of the June ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act is not yet known, the motion said. The state argued that some federal agencies are weighing whether to grant federal benefits to same-sex married couples, and contended that those benefits could extend to same-sex couples joined in civil unions in New Jersey. If not, the couples should sue the federal, not state, government, the attorneys argued.
Shortly after the DOMA ruling, however, the Obama administration clarified that it would not consider civil unions or domestic partnerships on the same level as full marriage, in respect to federal benefits.
The attorneys also argued that the plaintiffs’ summary-judgment motion is an attempt to “side-step the Supreme Court mandate concerning the need for a factual record,” which they said can only be achieved through a full trial.
Garden State Equality executive director Troy Stevenson, however, said the decision should not be held off any longer.
“There is no time for delay,” Stevenson said. “Civil unions are not now, and never will be, equal to marriage. And New Jersey’s couples deserve better than second-class status. The state must act.”