In one of the first major courtroom tests since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Lambda Legal presented oral arguments Thursday on a motion for summary judgment before the New Jersey Superior Court in a case seeking marriage equality on behalf of Garden State Equality, the plaintiff in the case. The State of New Jersey also presented its case.

Gay Couples Marry At New York City Hall
Gay Couples Marry At New York City Hall (Mario Tama, Getty Images)

A ruling is not expected before September.

Larry Lustberg, a lawyer for Garden State Equality and a group of gay couples already suing for the right to marry, argued that by barring marriage, the state is denying  same-sex couples the full range of federal benefits, rights, and protections.

Kevin Jesperson, a state assistant attorney general, told the judge that the federal government should recognize New Jersey civil unions as the equivalent to marriage and give registered couples access to Social Security survivor benefits, joint tax filing and other federal benefits. If federal agencies don't do that, he said, the plaintiffs should sue them, not the state.

Lustberg said the state can solve the potential problem by allowing gay couples to marry.
"It is the state, not the federal government that is the source of the problem here," he said.

"Garden State Equality was proud to help initiate this historic case," said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality. "We have long been leading the charge for equality, and we will continue to pursue every available avenue to make sure New Jersey's same-sex couples enjoy the dignity of marriage as quickly as possible."

One of those "avenues" would be to override Gov. Chris Christie's veto of a bill to legalize gay marriage. Stevenson claims to be confident that will happen, but Democrats have failed in every single attempt to override a Christie veto.

The state argued that the name is the only difference between civil unions and marriage and insists a New Jersey court cannot order the state to legalize gay marriage just because the federal government might decide not to extend some benefits to couples in civil unions.

In June 2011, Lambda Legal filed the case, Garden State Equality v. Dow, arguing that barring same-sex couples from marriage and relegating them to civil union violates both the New Jersey Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution.

This June, the Supreme Court struck down a section DOMA, and Lambda Legal filed a motion for summary judgment in the case, arguing that by barring marriage, the state of New Jersey denies same-sex couples the full range of federal benefits, rights, and protections.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)






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