In 2011, Lambda Legal filed suit on behalf of Garden State Equality and six same-sex families against the state, arguing that New Jersey’s civil union system, which the legislature created to provide same-sex couples the same benefits as marriage, failed to provide those same benefits and violated New Jersey’s guarantee of equal protection. Previously inLewis v. Harris, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state violated the equal protection guarantees of the New Jersey constitution by denying same-sex couples the rights, benefits, and privileges that marriage provides to different-sex couples. In June 2013, while the case was pending, the United States Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) inUnited States v. Windsorand the federal government began providing benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
In July 2013, the plaintiffs’ filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that with the demise of DOMA, it was clear that New Jersey’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage denied them access to important federal benefits and violated our state constitution. The ACLU-NJ filed an amicus brief in support plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, arguing that civil unions failed to provide the constitutionally required equality of right and benefits for same-sex couples as a matter of law after Windsor. On September 27, 2013, Judge Mary Jacobson of the Mercer County Superior court ruled that same sex marriage should be legal and ordered the state to begin allowing same sex marriages on October 21, 2013. The state quickly appealed the decision and asked for a stay to delay the implementation of the court order. On October 18, 2013, the Supreme Court of New Jersey unanimously affirmed the trial judge’s denial of the stay and ruled that state should begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as ordered. Hours after the first marriages were officiated on October 21, 2013, the state dropped its legal challenge and New Jersey became the 14th state with the freedom to marry for all loving and committed couples.