A New Jersey judge on Friday ordered state officials to allow same-sex couples to marry, starting Oct. 21, ruling that the current system of civil unions is invalid under the state constitution's equal protection requirements.
Judge Mary Jacobson in Mercer County Superior Court in Trenton issued the order as part of long-running litigation brought by a group of gay couples against the state.
The state attorney general's office, which has defended against the lawsuit, could appeal the decision and seek a stay of Jacobson's ruling. The attorney general's office and the office of Gov. Chris Christie, who opposes same-sex marriage, did not immediately comment on the ruling.
New Jersey would become the 14th state to permit gay marriage. It is also legal in the District of Columbia.
The case is one of the first examples of how the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June to invalidate the federal law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman has altered the legal landscape for gay marriage advocates.
Jacobson said New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions are now missing out on federal benefits they would otherwise receive if allowed to marry as a result of the Supreme Court's action.
"These couples are now denied benefits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the state," she wrote in a 53-page opinion explaining her decision.
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