What Does Last Week's Major Mercer County Decision Mean for Same Sex Couples? A Few Things…
As our own Rick DeMichele told CBS KYW radio back in May, it is only a matter of time before New Jersey's courts once again take up the issue of same sex marriage. Sure enough, they've once again waded back into one of our society's most controversial legal areas. The resulting appellate litigation could settle the issue in the Garden State once and for all. Last Friday, the Assignment Judge of the Mercer County Superior Court handed down a ruling in Garden State Equality v. Dow. Six New Jersey same-sex couples were seeking to compel state officials to perform/recognize their marriages. Judge Mary Jacobson granted this requested relief sought by the Garden State Equality v. Dow plaintiffs, directing state officials to permit and honor the couples' same-sex marriages starting on October 21st. Click here to read the Court's order. Here's full copy of Judge Jacobson's accompanying decision: NJGayMarriage Shortly after the decision came down, Governor Chris Christie's Press Secretary Michael Drewniak announced the Administration's intention to appeal the ruling: “Governor Christie has always maintained that he would abide by the will of the voters on the issue of marriage equality and called for it to be on the ballot this Election Day. Since the legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination.” The appellate process could take months to unfold. In the interim, a higher court could issue a “stay” which is an interlocutory action preventing further action pending the Court's review of the matter. That could mean no marriages before October 21st. We will have to wait and see. What does Friday's development mean for New Jersey's gay couples who'd like to marry? The Mercer County ruling is significant in that it sets up a perfect opportunity for the NJ Supreme Court to dispose of this issue once and for all. Last summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down key provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) enabled Friday's decision. You may recall that the decision from the DOMA case captioned U.S. v. Windsor provided grounds upon which litigants in states with same sex marriage bans could challenge them successfully. Specifically, the federal government was directed to acknowledge a state-recognized same sex marriage and afford those individuals with the same federal benefits presently enjoyed by opposite sex married couples. Building on the Windsor decision, Judge Jacobson reasoned that “…the current inequality visited upon same-sex civil union couples offends the New Jersey Constitution, creates an incomplete set of rights that Lewis sought to prevent, and is not compatible with “a reasonable conception of basic human dignity.” Now we're waiting to see how and when New Jersey's precedential courts treat the Mercer County judge's trial-level decision. We'll keep you in the loop as the process plays out. Either way, please know that you don't have to tackle momentous decision without professional, experienced and compassionate assistance to protect your rights and work towards your goals. If you or someone you know is considering seeking a divorce or a civil union dissolution in New Jersey, please contact the family law attorneys at DeMichele & DeMichele online today. Your confidential initial consultation is only a phone call away: (856) 546-1350.
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