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New Jersey Judge Considering Same Sex Marriage

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A judge in Trenton has declined to rule immediately on whether same sex marriages in New Jersey should be allowed.

On Thursday, state Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobsen heard arguments from attorneys for the state and gay couples as to whether she should force the state to recognize same sex marriage in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling against DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Supreme Court decision on June 26 led to the extension of federal benefits – like social security and tax breaks - to gay couples married in states that allow it.

“As we pointed out in court, marriage is something you have to have now to secure your rights,” said Haley Gorenberg, a lawyer with Lambda Legal, which is arguing the case on behalf of Garden State Equality, a statewide gay rights organization, and six same-sex couples and their children.

Gorenberg and attorney Lawrence Lustburg say that the DOMA ruling means New Jersey’s civil unions law – which does not afford the same rights as marriage – means New Jersey gay couples have less rights than states where gay couples are allowed to marry.

“At least four couples that are members of Garden State Equality are federal employees,” Lawrence Lustberg, one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs, said outside the courtroom. “So they are denied health insurance and life insurance simply because they are allowed to be in civil unions and not in marriages.”

But attorneys for the state of New Jersey told Jacobson that it's not the state's fault that the federal government doesn't recognize their civil unions. If the federal government won't extend crucial benefits, they say, then gay couples should sue them, not the state.

Additionally, Assistant attorney general Kevin Jesperson said that the state deciding the matter so soon after DOMA was like stepping into a very fast moving stream when the footing is very uncertain.

A decision is expected in September.