(Photo: Reuters/Mike Segar)
The office of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has requested this week a stay on a judge's ruling that same-sex couples in the state be allowed to marry starting on Oct. 21. Christie's office requested the judge delay implementating her ruling so that no same-sex marriages take place as the state pursues an appeal process.
In a letter sent to the state's Supreme Court justices earlier this week, New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman wrote that along with seeking a delay for the Oct. 21 deadline for same-sex marriages in the state, Christie is also seeking to have the court case expedited to the state's Supreme Court, instead of the usual practice of taking it through an intermediate appellate court first.
Christie's request for a delay was expected after his office announced Friday it would appeal the ruling reached by Judge Mary Jacobson. Jacobson ruled earlier on Friday that same-sex couples in the state should legally be allowed to marry so they can receive the federal benefits granted to them through the Supreme Court's June ruling that struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act. Not allowing same-sex couples to marry would violate the equal protection guarantees found in the state's constitution, Jacobson wrote.
"Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey constitution," Jacobson, of Trenton's Mercer County Superior Court, wrote in the order.
Christie, a Republican, has personally remained opposed to same-sex marriage in the state, but has said that he believes the issue should be put up to a ballot vote. In February 2012, Christie vetoed a bill passed by the state legislature that would have legalized same-sex marriage, saying the issue should be put up to a voter referendum. The legislature refused to amend the bill that would have put it up for a vote. Those supporting same-sex marriage have been opposed to a voter referendum because they argue same-sex marriage is a civil right so it should not be decided by the public. Currently, New Jersey allows civil unions for same-sex couples, but has not redefined marriage.
Michael Drewniak, a spokesperson for Christie's office, told NJ.com earlier this week that Christie is pursuing a state Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage only because the legislature has not allowed the issue to be put up for a voter referendum.
"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," Drewniak said. "Since the legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination."
Lawrence Lustberg, a lawyer for the pro-gay group Garden State Equality that Jacobson ruled in favor of on Friday, told NJ.com that he and his group were "disappointed" with Christie's request to delay Jacobson's Oct. 21 deadline.
"We will oppose the stay," Lustberg said. "We will fight the appeals to the end." Lustberg told the local media outlet that his group would consider allowing the case to go directly to the state's Supreme Court. "It's in our clients' interest as well to have this matter decided sooner rather than later."