In a landmark decision this week, the U.S. Supreme Court passed down a ruling that would give gay couples in state-sanctioned marriages the same federal rights and protection given to traditional married couples. This ruling overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by Pres. Bill Clinton in 1996, which, the Court said, violated equal liberties protected by the Fifth Amendment. (1)
According to the federal government’s General Accounting Office, more than 1,100 rights and responsibilities are given to married couples in the U.S. These include Social Security and veteran’s benefits; health matters, such as Medicaid, insurance, family leave and hospital visitation; retirement and pension savings; estate taxes and immigration issues. Because DOMA recognized marriage as a union “between a man and a woman,” these rights and benefits offered to couples in traditional marriages were denied to those in same-sex marriages.(2) The Supreme Court’s recent decision changes that.
This decision, however, did not say that same-sex marriages must be recognized in all states. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia currently recognize same-sex marriages.(1) Other states, including New Jersey, recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. Generally, these relationships carry rights that are recognized only in the states where the couples reside.
New Jersey’s civil union legislation, adopted in 2006, gave gay couples rights in certain matters including inheritance, adoptions, hospital visitation, and medical decision-making issues, as well as the right not to testify against their partner in a State court.(3) Those rights, however, pertain only to the State’s involvement in those issues and the recent Supreme Court decision does not change this.
Arguments for legalizing same-sex marriages in New Jersey have been made for years with no success. The most recent attempt was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2012, who has openly opposed the idea. State lawmakers have until January 2014 to overturn his veto. (3) Whether the Supreme Court’s recent decision has any influence on legalizing same-sex marriages in New Jersey is yet to be seen.