A New Jersey judge ruled on Friday that the state must allow gay marriage, contrary to existing state law.
Civil unions have been legal in New Jersey since 2006, but State Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobsen said the current law prohibiting same-sex marriage denies same-sex couples federal benefits such as filing joint tax returns.
“Every day that the state does not allow same-sex couples to marry, plaintiffs are being harmed,” she ruled, ordering the state to allow same-sex marriage beginning Oct. 21. Gov. Chris Christie’s administration plans to appeal the ruling, despite the governor’s ambivalence on the issue.
The New Jersey Senate voted down same-sex marriage legislation in 2010, and Christie, vetoed a similar bill in February 2012. But Jacobsen’s ruling relies on the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision that the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages, discriminated against gay couples.
In response to Jacobson's demands, Christie clung to his past position: Let the voters decide.
“Gov. 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,” spokesman Michael Drewniak said. Christie refused to take questions Friday.
But during an interview on CBS’s Sunday Morning, Christie said again he would leave the decision to voters: “I do not [believe in same-sex marriage]. But what I will tell you is, that I understand that good people of good will have a difference of opinion on it. So my view is, put it on the ballot. Let people decide.”
Christie’s view on same-sex marriage is murky. Though he has vetoed legislation that would allow same-sex marriage, in August he signed a law that bans reparative therapy for youth struggling with same-sex attraction. That decision will not play well with conservative voters should Christie decide to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
But leaving the same-sex marriage decision up to voters could give Christie some political cover. It might also delay its adoption. Gay marriage activists would prefer to have lawmakers or judges decide the issue, since it tends to do worse on the ballot than in court. According to The Washington Post, voters have struck down same-sex marriage proposals 32 times since 1998.