New Jersey Court Told Same-Sex Marriage Appeal on Way

Governor Chris Christie’s attorney general told the New Jersey Supreme Court that he’s appealing a judge’s ruling that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry.

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman notified the Supreme Court yesterday of the state’s appeal of the Sept. 27 decision by Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson in Trenton. The judge said her order will take effect Oct. 21, which would make New Jersey the 14th U.S. state to allow gay marriages.

Hoffman said the state will ask Jacobson to put her order on hold. If she refuses, he will ask the appellate division to rule on an emergency basis. If necessary, the state will ask the Supreme Court to stay the order. It may also ask the high court to skip the appellate division and take the case, Hoffman wrote.

“We intend to seek this court’s direct certification of this matter,” Hoffman wrote in a letter signed by Assistant Attorney General Robert Lougy.

Jacobson ruled before a trial on a request by Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, which represents six same-sex couples and their children. They asked Jacobson for the ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 struck down a federal law denying benefits to same-sex married couples.

“Every day that the state does not allow same-sex couples to marry, plaintiffs are being harmed,” Jacobson ruled. “Plaintiffs are ineligible for many federal marital benefits at this moment, and their right to equal protection under the New Jersey Constitution should not be delayed until some undeterminable future time.”

Disappointed Attorney

Attorney Lawrence Lustberg, who argued before Jacobson on behalf of Lambda Legal, said he was disappointed that the state is appealing and seeking a stay.

“We will fight it every step of the way,” Lustberg said. “We’re optimistic that under the governing legal standards, the motion for a stay will be denied, and on Oct. 21, same-sex marriages will commence.”

The state must apply for a stay by today, Jacobson said in an order she issued today. Advocates of same-sex marriage have until Oct. 4 to reply. The state has until Oct. 7 to respond. Jacobson said the state waived oral arguments.

Lambda Legal’s deputy legal director, Hayley Gorenberg, said the group expects to prevail.

Delay ‘Hardship’

“We’ll be making the case that we are likely to win and any delay in allowing same-sex couples to marry is too great a hardship to allow a stay,” Gorenberg said today in a statement.

The mayor of Lambertville, New Jersey, who performed one of the state’s first civil unions in 2007, said he plans to marry one of those same couples on Oct. 21.

Mayor David DelVecchio, a Democrat, said he intends to perform the state’s first legal gay marriage ceremony for Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey in three weeks, as long as a stay isn’t granted.

“This is just a continuation of the first civil union,” DelVecchio, 56, said yesterday in an interview.

Christie, a Republican, vetoed a same-sex marriage bill last year. The governor, who is seeking re-election in November and may run for president in 2016, has said he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. He has said the question of gay marriage should be decided by voters in a referendum, and he would honor the results.

Supreme Court

“Since the Legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination,” Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said in a statement on Sept. 27.

Christie is “defending the indefensible” in promising to go to the Supreme Court, state Senator Ray Lesniak, a Democrat from Elizabeth, said at a statehouse press conference with party members.

“The governor is a trained attorney -- he knows there is no way he could win this appeal,” said the Senate majority leader, Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck. “There is no logic behind it. So he should stop wasting taxpayer money and drop it.”

The case is Garden State Equality v. Dow, L-001729-11, New Jersey Superior Court, Mercer County (Trenton).

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