In a 2006 case, the New Jersey Supreme Court said the state had to give the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples under the state constitution. The legislature said fine, we’ll create civil unions. An advocacy group sued saying civil unions aren’t good enough. Today, a trial-court judge agreed.
Here’s the court’s logic:
The New Jersey Supreme Court said same-sex couples have to get all the benefits of marriage.
They get all the state benefits but not the federal benefits because the Obama administration (following the Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA) does not recognize civil unions as marriages.
The plaintiffs in this case could sue the federal government, but that would be a “costly and time-consuming litigation burden not required of opposite-sex married couples,” the court says.
Since it would be easier for New Jersey to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples so they can get federal marriage benefits, the state has to do so starting October 21.
It’s interesting that by striking down DOMA, the Supreme Court has emboldened the executive branch and at least this state court to create a new national marriage policy in favor of same-sex marriage. So much for the federalism that was supposedly so important in the DOMA case.
It’s also interesting that the burden of filing a lawsuit creates a constitutional burden so great as to sweep away any concern that New Jersey might have about redefining marriage. The near-universal understanding of marriage, including its endorsement of the principle that children are entitled to a married mother and father, must yield, the court thinks, to administrative efficiency in accessing government benefits.
All this, of course, against the backdrop of an ongoing legislative effort to get what the plaintiffs are seeking. Presumably it would also be unconstitutional to expect same-sex marriage advocates to persuade their representatives that their claims have merit. Convincing one judge is a lot simpler.