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New Jersey Governor Christie drops appeal of pro-marriage equality ruling

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New Jersey state sealBig news out of New Jersey today: Republican Governor Chris Christie has instructed Acting Attorney General John Hoffman to cancel the state’s appeal of a recent court ruling ordering New Jersey to allow same-sex couples to marry.  Metro Weekly has more:

“Chief Justice Stuart Rabner left no ambiguity about the unanimous court’s view on the ultimate decision in this matter when he wrote, ‘same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today,’” a Christie spokesman said Monday. “Although the Governor strongly disagrees with the Court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the Court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law. The Governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his Administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”

The decision to drop the appeal by Christie, who has said he personally opposes same-sex marriage but believes the issue should be left up to voters, is the latest development in a rapidly moving legal battle for marriage rights in New Jersey.

Friday’s ruling denying the stay, which paved the way for same-sex marriages to begin today, came after a state court declared last month that same-sex couples “must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution.” Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson’s September ruling sided with the plaintiffs in the case, brought by Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, who argued the U.S. Supreme Court’s broad June ruling in the Defense of Marriage Act case had thus led to the denial of equal protection to New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions.

The Friday ruling, issued by a unanimous vote of the state supreme court, refused to stay Judge Jacobson’s ruling pending an appeals process.  The New Jersey Supreme Court was expected to hear oral arguments in the case in early January.

“[T]he State has not shown a reasonble probability of success on the merits,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the court’s opinion.  “The State has advanced a number of arguments [in support of a stay],” he noted, “but none of them overcome this reality: same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today.”

Although the supreme court’s ruling was not a final determination on the law’s merits, the 7-0 margin was seen by observers as a strong sign that the court’s eventual ruling would be pro-marriage equality.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, it seems that marriage equality is now established law in New Jersey.

As if to prove that point, couples began marrying at 12:01 this morning.

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