Thirteen states now recognize same-sex marriages, including the entire Northeast except for Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
It’s been a major political and legal issue in New Jersey for more than a decade.
The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2006 that same sex-couples had the right to the same legal protections as married couples, but a 4-3 majority ruled that the state did not have to go as far as calling those benefits marriage. Lawmakers responded by quickly creating civil unions.
In 2011, six couples and children of several of them asked the courts to find that the civil union law was not fulfilling its intention because it created a separate classification for gay couples. The state Supreme Court sent the issue to a lower court.
But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June on the Defense of Marriage Act changed the argument and the couples asked anew for speedy relief.
Federal agencies have rolled out a variety of policies on whether they will recognize marriages of any gay couples, or only those in states that recognize their vows.
The Christie administration argued that it’s the federal government’s patchwork of policies that is keeping lesbian and gay couples in New Jersey from having the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.
Even if Friday’s summary judgment is ultimately rejected, the broader case would remain, though it would likely take several months before a trial could be held.
The question of gay marriage is also in the Legislature. In 2012, lawmakers passed a law to allow gay marriage, but Christie vetoed it.
On Friday, Democratic lawmakers called on Christie not to appeal the ruling.
“It is also a stark reminder that Governor Christie stands on the wrong side of history,” said state Sen. Barbara Buono, who is running for governor. “At every turn, he has prevented our gay brothers and sisters from enjoying the same rights as other New Jerseyans. He must now make a decision whether to continue to be an obstacle or to be part of the solution.”