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New Jersey could become the latest state with legal same-sex marriages after a New Jersey judge ordered the state to start offering same-sex civil marriages to couples in the state by October 21st. "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 wrote in her decision. The decision cites the state's equal protection laws, along with the Supreme Court's Windsor decision, which invalidated portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act this summer. 

While an appeal is expected — that process will likely go all the way to the state's Supreme Court — those marriages could begin as scheduled unless a judge issues a stay. That would make New Jersey the 14th state to offer same-sex marriages state-wide. Currently, New Jersey offers same-sex unions, but not marriages, which the plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued resulted in a deprivation of many benefits and services afforded to married couples. Specifically, because the Supreme Court's Windsor decision has effectively offered equal benefits to legally-married same-sex couples in the U.S on the federal level, without mandating a nation-wide legalization of gay marriage, the New Jersey case posited that the state's laws codified a long-standing notion in the state that its civil union provisions were not equal to a marriage. And it looks like the judge agreed. Here's more from Jacobson's decision:

"At least six federal agencies have explicitly stated that they will provide marriage benefits only to legally married same-sex couples. Consequently, regardless of future fluctuations in the law, plaintiffs are today not eligible for benefits as a result of their 'civil union' status...if any of the plaintiffs got sick prior to a change in this policy, their partner's employer could refuse to allow the civil union partner to take leave to care for the ill partner...the existence of this quandary is real for plaintiffs and required no further factual development." 

"The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts," Jacobson continued. 

New Jersey was one of a handful of states facing an almost immediate escalation in the fight for gay marriage following the SCOUTS decision. Earlier this month, Hawaii's governor scheduled a special session of the State's legislature for October, basically in order to pass a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. In New Mexico, which as no laws preventing or allowing same-sex marriage,county clerks are offering marriage certificates to same-sex couples. There are new gay marriage lawsuits in Virginia, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania, with existing lawsuits moving forward in a handful of states, and possibly, more to come. 29 states currently have constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriages, including states where those laws are currently being challenged. In Michigan, for instance, the state is defending itself against a challenge to its anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment by saying that it helps "regulate sexual relationships." 

The full decision is here: 

Decision Summary Judgment

This post on a developing story has been updated with new information. 

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