Presently, in New Jersey, same-sex couples may marry each other. On September 27, 2013, a New Jersey Superior Court Judge ruled in the case of Garden State Equality v. Dow that not allowing same-sex couples the option to marry deprives them of their right to share in the federal benefits guaranteed by the United States Supreme Court in its recent decision of United States v. Windsor.
In United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional because it restricted the federal interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” to apply only to heterosexual unions. Windsor held that federal agencies have to treat married same-sex couples in the same manner as heterosexual married couples in the administration of federal programs. Shortly after the decision, a number of federal agencies began extending marital benefits to same-sex couples who are lawfully married, but not to partners in civil unions.
As a result, same-sex couples who have opted to marry in New Jersey now receive the same benefits as heterosexual married couples when it comes to family and medical leave, Medicare, tax and immigration matters, military and veterans’ affairs, and other areas. Whereas, civil-union partners in New Jersey do not receive the same benefits as married same-sex couples. As a matter of fact, the United States General Accounting Office indicates that their research identified a total of 1,138 federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights, and privileges.
As a result of Garden State Equality, in New Jersey same-sex couples may marry each other or memorialize their relationship in a civil union as opposed to a “traditional” marriage. Same-sex couples currently in civil unions have the option to convert their civil union to a marriage, also. The option of marriage for same-sex couples comes with all the trappings that the state and federal government extend to heterosexual married couples. Although the choice to marry seems immediately appealing because of access to certain benefits, it is worth speaking with an attorney who specializes in New Jersey matrimonial law before making this decision so that you understand fully the marital contract. An experienced NJ matrimonial attorney will be able to advise you as to the pros and cons of same-sex couples choosing the option of marriage as opposed to civil union, and vice versa.
 Defense of Marriage Act: Update to Prior Report, the Honorable Bill Frist. United States General Accounting Office.