The New Jersey Superior Court [official website] on Tuesday reinstated one count [opinion, PDF] of a marriage equality lawsuit [complaint text, PDF; case materials] against the state's civil union system, reversing the court's own decision to dismiss the count on a motion by the state Attorney General [official website]. Judge Linda Feinberg in November had allowed the case to continue on the premise that civil unions were unconstitutional under state law [state constitution, text], but dismissed three counts [JURIST report] that claimed violations of federal guarantees of due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder]. Feinberg reversed her dismissal of one count [AP report] after the plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration:
Defendants challenge the premise that alleged unequal treatment of same-sex couples, under the Civil Union Act, constitutes state action under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause ... Plaintiffs allege the Civil Union Act and its enforcement by certain state officials, who are named defendants, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. At this juncture, the court is satisfied there is sufficient state action to permit the claim under the Federal Equal Protection Clause to proceed.The lawsuit was filed by seven same-sex couples and several of their children, and is expected to ultimately decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The court's ruling came four days after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie [official website] conditionally vetoed [JURIST report] a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. The Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act [bill, PDF] was passed by the New Jersey State Assembly [official website] by a vote of 42-33, and was subsequently approved by the State Senate [JURIST report] 24-16. Approval of the legislation marks a shift from the legislature's previous position concerning same-sex marriage, as a similar bill was defeated [JURIST report] in the state Senate last year. Last week the State of Washington became the eighth US jurisdiction to legalize same-sex marriage, which is also legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia [JURIST reports]. Civil unions or domestic partnerships are currently legal in Maine, Illinois, Delaware, Hawaii, California, Wisconsin, Nevada, Oregon and Washington and await ratification in Rhode Island [JURIST reports].