Happy 10th Anniversary to New Jersey’s LGBTQ+ Couples!
Today, October 21, 2023, Garden State Equality joins thousands of committed LGBTQ+ couples and their families in celebrating the official 10th anniversary of marriage equality in New Jersey. That was the effective date of then-Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson’s landmark ruling in Garden State Equality v. Dow, holding that New Jersey’s marriage laws violated the rights of same-sex couples to equal protection of the law under the New Jersey State Constitution.
Judge Jacobson rejected then-Governor Christie’s request for a “stay” to delay her court decision in favor of marriage equality. After Judge Jacobson’s refusal, the New Jersey Supreme Court stepped in and upheld the stay, ruling that New Jersey’s LGBTQ+ civil union partners were denied equality. In a unanimous ruling authored by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, the High Court said, “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 justices held that the Garden State Equality plaintiff couples were denied equality after the United States Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act in U.S. v. Windsor a few months earlier. In the ruling, they noted: “[t]he State Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection is therefore not being met.”
The impact of Garden State Equality v. Dow on New Jersey law cannot be overstated. Of course, the decision changed the legal landscape for LGBTQ+ couples and their families by imposing equality on the state’s law books. However, ruling has also become a widely cited fixture in New Jersey law for reasons beyond marriage equality. It is regularly brought up in court actions where an impact to important public issues is being considered. It added a new required analysis under New Jersey law for all emergent rulings and stay requests that “present an issue of ‘significant public importance.’” Specifically, the Supreme Court held in Garden State Equality that, “a court must consider the public interest in addition to the traditional factors that were previously considered.”
“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.”New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner,
in Garden State Equality v. Dow (2013)
We are forever grateful to our attorneys at the Gibbons law firm, led by Larry Lustberg, and Hayley Gorenberg at the national civil rights organization Lambda Legal, who led the charge in court for our community’s equality. We will also never forget that then-Governor Christie vigorously opposed equality in New Jersey, finally giving up his relentless campaign against our community’s equal marriage rights 10 years ago today.
[Case citation: Garden State Equality v. Dow, 82 A. 3d 336 (Law Div. 2013)]