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New Jersey judge orders same-sex marriage statewide

Mel Evans / AP file

People applaud Wednesday, July 24, 2013, during a large gathering on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J., as the New Jersey United for Marriage campaign announced that several national groups that support recognizing same-sex marriage are teaming up in New Jersey, saying that the state is primed to allow gay couples to wed.

A New Jersey state court judge ruled that the state must permit same-sex couples to get married.

The ruling comes in a lawsuit brought by six same-sex couples and their children. They argued that it's unfair treatment to allow them to only enter into civil unions, now that the Supreme Court has decided the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages in the states where they are legal. 

"This news is thrilling. We argued that limiting lesbians and gay men to civil union is unfair and unconstitutional, and now the Court has agreed,” Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda Legal deputy legal director, said in a statement. The organization advocated on behalf of the Garden State Equality organization and six same-sex couples.

Friday's ruling picks up where the New Jersey Supreme Court left off in 2006, when it ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to all the rights and benefits that opposite-sex couples get.  

The state legislature followed up by creating civil unions.

But Friday's decision stipulates that New Jersey's same-sex couples will no longer receive all the benefits of marriage under civil unions, since only married same-sex couples may receive federal benefits.

"The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide variety of contexts," said Judge Mary Jacobson of Mercer County Superior Court. 

Gov. Chris Christie's administration had urged the state court to "reserve the name of marriage for heterosexual couples." Christie's acting attorney general, John Hoffman, argued that it's the federal government that's discriminating against gays by not granting the same legal recognition to civil unions, which the state has recognized since 2006, as it now does to marriages.

Following Friday's decision, Christie's press secretary released the following statement: "Governor Christie has always maintained that he would abide by the will of the voters on the issue of marriage equality and called for it to be on the ballot this Election Day. Since the legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination.”

There is no indication yet whether the state intends to appeal. The judge Friday delayed the effective date of her ruling until Oct. 21 to give the state time to consider its options. 

Also on Friday, an Illinois judge let two challenges to the state ban on same-sex marriage to go ahead, ruling that the lawsuits could succeed by arguing that the ban discriminates against the plaintiffs. The state Senate voted in February to OK gay marriage, but the House didn't vote, Reuters reported.