The New Jersey senate will be deliberating on a new bill that would grant same-sex couples the right to marry, following up on a previous Superior Court decision that legalized homosexual marriages in the state. The bill, S-3109, if passed, will protect same-sex couples who have been married since the Superior Court made their ruling, and all couples who plan to get married in the future. Family lawyers in New Jersey say that the new bill will upgrade the legal landscape of family law in the state.
Last October, on the heels of the United States Supreme Court decision (United states v. Windsor) that states must recognize marriages between same-sex couples, the New Jersey Superior Court ruled in Garden State Equality v. Dow that the state must allow civil marriages for same-sex couples. The civil marriage would take the place of the previously allowed civil union, which is not recognized as a marriage according to federal law. By opening the door to civil marriages for same-sex partners, the NJ Superior Court also ruled that such marriages should be given the same rights and privileges that married heterosexual couples enjoy. To deny same-sex couples equal access, the court ruled, would be unconstitutional and violate the rights outlined in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.
The Superior Court’s ruling has been greatly contested in the state, however, and family lawyers in New Jersey say that it is only now growing in popularity and gaining strength among the state’s legislators. Governor Chris Christie initially asked the state Supreme Court to grant a stay of decision, hoping to appeal the ruling; he also vetoed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage a year earlier. The appeal was ultimately withdrawn, and now legislators are setting new bills in motion to keep the Superior Court’s ruling stable.
S-3109, also known as the Marriage Equality Act, has a lot in common with S-1, the earlier same-sex marriage bill that was vetoed by the Christie administration in February of 2012. Both bills stated that, under the First Amendment, religious institutions and clergy members can refuse to perform a same-sex marriage for religious reasons, and can decline to provide a church space or other services that would work contrary to their beliefs. However, S-3109 further stipulates this right to refuse does not include public spaces, no matter which group controls the area—in keeping with the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
The bill also states that any same-sex couples in a civil union choose to get married, now that the state allows it, their marriage and rights would be retroactive to October 21st, 2013—the date of the Superior Court ruling. Legislators have said that the new bill will bring New Jersey’s marriage law up to date, as the one in place now is unconstitutional after United States v. Windsor.
The family lawyers at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, represent couples of all kinds who want to be legally married in the state. If you have questions or concerns regarding the pending changes to New Jersey’s legislature, contact an HCK family attorney for a free, no-strings consultation today.