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Judge Says She Will Not Rule on Same-Sex Marriage Before September

Advocates and activists argue state's stand on civil unions prevents gay partners from enjoying federal benefits awarded married couples

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson.
Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson.

Marsha and Louise, Cindy and Maureen, and thousands of other same-sex couples are going to have to wait a little longer to learn if they will be able to marry in New Jersey, since a Mercer County Superior Court Judge in Trenton Thursday said she would reserve judgment on the matter until at least September.

New Jersey is the first state to hear testimony on the issue following the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act seven weeks ago.

Marriage-equality activists have gone to court saying that New Jersey must act quickly to prevent further discrimination against same-sex couples because they are being prevented from enjoying federal benefits when they are joined in civil unions, as opposed to marriage. They are asking Judge Mary Jacobson to order that same-sex marriage be made legal immediately, since the state Supreme Court ruling allowing for civil unions was based on the idea that there was no difference legally between a civil union and marriage. Now that the U.S. government bestows benefits on same-sex partners who are married, but not those in civil unions, they argue that the state law is no longer valid.

New Jersey Assistant Attorney General Kevin Jespersen argued that Jacobson does not have the authority to overturn the state’s current civil union law and that it’s too soon to do so anyway without a full trial. Garden State Equality, which filed a motion for summary judgment days after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, argued there is no need to wait and gay couples are being harmed every day.

“Civil unions are not equal to marriage,” stated Lawrence Lustberg, who is representing Garden State Equality, as he began making his case before Jacobson. “There is ongoing harm every single day for people who are denied their federal benefits because of the fact they are not permitted to be married.”

Following the court hearing, marriage-equality proponents spoke with emotion and passion. “In 2002 when Lambda took up our case . . . we knew we were in for a long haul but, my God, at this point it seems utterly ridiculous that it is not just common sense. When the state of New Jersey specifically said you are just a partner in a civil union they separated us from marriage . . . And because of that, now that DOMA has been overturned, we are separated from all of the federal rights and protections,” said Cindy Meneghin, speaking about her 39-year life with her partner Maureen Kilian.

“Maureen has gone thru cancer, meningitis, and a heart ablation with me and I just had another heart test yesterday,” continued Meneghin, who stood with Kilian by her side and their two children behind them. “Why are we expected to take the chance of waiting even one more day for the benefits that the federal government on June 26th, the 11th anniversary of our original filing of this case, said if we are married, we get those federal benefits? Why do we have to wait even one more day . . . because the state of New Jersey wants to treat me like a second-class citizen when it comes to my relationship?”

The state’s contention is that it does not treat those in civil unions as second-class citizens. Jespersen argued there is “no substantial legal difference between civil union and civil marriage in New Jersey statutes.”

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