A New Jersey judge stated in a ruling on Friday that "same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution."
Judge Mary Jacobson of Mercer County Superior Court ruled that New Jersey's "civil unions," a label that is supposed to be parallel to same-sex marriage, no longer entitles same-sex couples to the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples.
Jacobson's ruling states that after the United States Supreme Court invalidated part of the Defense of Marriage Act, many federal agencies gave marital benefits to same-sex married couples, but not to same-sex civil union couples, which means New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions may not have equal rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples.
"These couples are now denied benefits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the state," Jacobson wrote in her ruling Friday.
Some of the federal benefits that same-sex couples in New Jersey are ineligible for include inability to access marital rights in regard to the federal pension system and ineligibility for federal tax benefits that married couples receive.
Marissa Hatten, program coordinator for the Women's Center, agreed that equal federal benefits for same-sex couples is important, but added that being able to apply the same term, "marriage," to both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples is a huge step towards equality.
"It's a much more symbolic and emotional meaning to be seen as a married couple," Hatten said. "To be put at the same level as a heterosexual married couple is true equality."
According to CNN, Governor Chris Christie's office has indicated their intention to appeal the ruling, which otherwise would have allowed same-sex marriages beginning Oct. 21 in New Jersey Supreme Court.