A state judge ruled on Friday that New Jersey has to allow same-sex marriages, noting that gay couples would be denied federal benefits if the state kept allowing only civil unions.
Judge Mary Jacobson in Mercer County Superior Court handed down the ruling and ordered state officials to begin officiating same-sex marriages on October 21.
Reuters reports that Jacobson’s ruling makes New Jersey the first state to lift a ban on gay marriage as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June to strike down the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
"Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey constitution," Jacobson wrote.
However, Gov. Chris Christie, who opposes gay marriage, vowed today to appeal the ruling all the way to the state Supreme Court.
"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," said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak, according to NJ.com. "Since the Legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination.”
NJ.com also reported that the case could take months to reach the state’s highest court and that Christie’s office did not say whether it would seek to freeze Jacobson's order while the appeal is pending.
Hayley Gorenberg of Lambda Legal, one of the attorneys for the gay couples who brought the lawsuit, said they would fight the state's appeal "every step of the way."
If Jacobson's decision stands, New Jersey would become the 14th state to permit gay marriage. It is also legal in the District of Columbia.