As previously covered, late last month a New Jersey superior court saw the June U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same sex marriage and the aspect of federal benefits impacting how New Jersey currently approaches same sex unions. Last year, the State Legislature passed a bill that would have added New Jersey to the dozen or so states that allow same sex marriage but it was quickly vetoed by Governor Chris Christie. The Democratic-led State Legislature has yet to muster the needed extra votes to override Christie's veto. However, with the superior court's decision; it would force Christie's hand. Either freely allow same sex marriages to start on October 21st or battle this issue with an appeal in hopes of overriding the decision.
Initially, it looked like Christie would seek an appeal and attempt to fast track the matter to the state Supreme Court. With an appeal, the October 21st start date would be delayed until the state Supreme Court until a decision was issued that supported the lower court's decision. But, it was just as possible for the decision to be overturned and thus same sex marriage would be delayed most likely for the short term future. New Jersey allows civil unions, but states that allow same sex marriage under the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court would ensure same sex couples are not denied federal benefits. States like New Jersey that only allow civil unions are not guaranteed such benefits.
Among those critical of Christie's appeal was state Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-20), who criticized Christie not only on his appeal but the fact that he would be wasting taxpayer money and state funds on this. Christie has already come under attack for the money he forced the state to spend to hold a special election earlier this month instead of having it the same day as the rest of the state elections.
You’re defending the indefensible. It is inevitable that marriage equality is the law of the land in the state of New Jersey.
With an appeal process looking very likely in the near future, state Senate Democrats led by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) called on the state Supreme Court to fast track the case.
Quite simply, Sweeney stated;
It needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.
The typical appeals process would involve the superior court's decision being challenged at the appellate court level first. The state Supreme Court justices could skip that step in favor of taking the case right up if everyone wants this appeal processed sooner rather than later.
With anything, polls can often paint a picture of where New Jerseyans stand on anyone or anything related to the state. According to a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll, voters overwhelmingly support what the superior court decided on allowing same sex marriage to commence effective October 21st. 62% of respondents support Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson's decision. The same total felt that the state should drop any appeal of it.
As Krista Jenkins, the polling director of PublicMind, would express;
The timing of the decision heightens the importance of the issue at a time when the state enters the final days of the Senate, gubernatorial, and legislative elections. Candidates from top of the ticket to down ballot races will undoubtedly be asked to weigh in on gay marriage for which public opinion is decisive.
A Quinnipiac University poll would show similar support as 61% feel that Christie should drop the appeal. Additionally, by a 59-33 margin; respondents want the Democratic-led State Legislature to override Christie's veto to the same sex marriage bill.
As Maurice Carroll, Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, would outline;
New Jersey likely voters support same-sex marriage any way they can get it. By almost 2-1, including a lot of Republicans, they want Gov. Christie to drop his appeal of a judge’s ruling so same-sex couples can marry in the Garden State. And if Christie won’t get out of the way, voters say, the State Legislature should push him aside by overriding his veto of legislation which passed both houses in February 2012.
After Christie's request for an appeal and for the state Supreme Court to hear it right away, it would only take a few days before the state Supreme Court would fast track the appeal as requested. Advocates and opponents of same sex marriage would continue their counter petitions and comments. Included on the advocates' side and their argument was allowing same sex marriages to start as planned during the appeal process.
Nearly as quickly as Christie got his appeal taken up by the state Supreme Court, they would quickly issue a decision. Their decision was to keep the October 21st start date for same sex marriages in effect and uphold the decision made by Jacobson last month.
Moreover, they would write in their unanimous 7-0 decision:
The State has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today. The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative. Because, among other reasons, the State has not shown a reasonable probability of success on the merits, the trial court’s order — directing State officials to permit same-sex couples, who are otherwise eligible, to enter into civil marriage starting on October 21, 2013 remains in effect.
The state Supreme Court decision would bring out responses from supporters and opponents of same sex marriage.
This unanimous ruling is yet another victory in the fight for marriage equality in New Jersey, and affirms what we already knew: that same-sex marriage will inevitably be the law of the land. Oct. 21st will go down in history as the day same-sex New Jersey couples were finally provided the freedom to marry, a right that millions of people in this state already have. As the legal case proceeds, we will continue our effort in the Legislature to ensure that marriage equality remains and that all residents are treated the same under the law. I applaud the court for its decision and for recognizing the importance of protecting the rights of same-sex couples in our state.
For Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-38), one of the two openly gay members of the State Legislature,
This ruling just brought us closer to justice. I commend the court for recognizing that civil unions are unconstitutional and denying the governor’s request to further delay a final decision on marriage equality in New Jersey. Monday will be a game-changer for couples who have long waited to exchange ‘I do’s’. As the court continues to deliberate the case, I hope the administration and municipalities will work together so Monday goes smoothly for all those couples who have patiently waited for this day.
While Michael Drewniak, Christie's press secretary, would voice;
The Supreme Court has made its determination. While the Governor firmly believes that this determination should be made by all the people of the State of New Jersey, he has instructed the Department of Health to cooperate with all municipalities in effectuating the order of the Superior Court under the applicable law.
And John Tomicki, President of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage, would utter;
Court after court is misinterpreting and misreading the law in order to get the result that they wish, which is to destroy the historical definition of marriage. Once you do that by a judicial fiat, no longer will you be able to limit marriage just to two people of the same gender. We would still wish that the question were decided not by the court, not by the Legislature, but by a referendum.
With October 21st and the beginning of same sex marriages in the Garden State slated to officially start, Christie decided to give up his legal battle over same sex marriage.
According to his office,
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner left no ambiguity about the unanimous court's view on the ultimate decision in this matter when he wrote, ‘same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today.' Although the Governor strongly disagrees with the Court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the Court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law. The Governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his Administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Most seemed to be applauding Christie's decision to not keep elongating this matter and his appeals any further. However, multiple conservatives and opponents of same sex marriage were vocal about what Christie decided to do.
One such voice was state Senator Michael Doherty (R-23), who exclaimed;
As a member of the Legislature, I am disappointed that same-sex marriage is apparently now the law of New Jersey despite neither the enactment of legislation nor a vote of the people to amend our state constitution. For four years, Governor Christie has repeatedly stated that he supports traditional marriage and that the voters of New Jersey should decide this important issue. By dropping the state's appeal, Governor Christie has acquiesced to the same judicial activism that he has long railed against. ... By refusing to challenge the court's decision, he is also blocking the opportunity for third parties to present their case to the court via amicus briefs.
After nearly two years of fighting over a bill vetoed by Christie that would have allowed same sex marriage to be legal in New Jersey, a superior court was able to issue the necessary verdict that largely Democrats in the State Legislature were waiting for. There was much talk in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in June and New Jersey had the chance to be at forefront of the next chapter in a long ongoing battle nationally for same sex marriage. Christie attempted an appeal and failed and likely only saw a similar ending with any other appeals.
October 21, 2013 will stand as a landmark day in New Jersey as it joins the rest of the northeast minus Pennsylvania in allowing same sex marriage. There will still be fights and rallies and conversations from those on both side of the argument. Despite a sense of finality, there is still likely more to come on this matter. The State Legislature still has a couple more months to attempt an override of Christie's veto. There will conversation around Christie's failed appeal and then withdrawn second appeal as he likely will keep his name out there among potential 2016 presidential candidates. For now, it is a step forward for those who have spent close to a decade working to have same sex marriage become a reality in New Jersey.