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N.J. Judge: Same-Sex Couples Must Be Allowed To Marry

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A New Jersey judge has ruled that the state must allow same-sex couples to marry.

In a summary judgment issued Friday, Judge Mary Jacobson says now that the federal government recognizes gay marriages, not doing so in New Jersey would violate the state constitution.

Web Extra: Read The Decision (.pdf)

Her order says the marriages could begin Oct. 21, which gives the state time to appeal and ask for a stay to block marriages from happening.

As CBS 2's Dick Brennan reported, the ruling is a result of a lawsuit brought by Garden State Equality.

N.J. Judge: Same-Sex Couples Must Be Allowed To Marry

"Governor Christie has always maintained that he would abide by the will of the voters on the issue of marriage equality and called for it to be on the ballot this Election Day," Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said. "Since the Legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination."

"This is a massive victory but it's far from everything we've been hoping for. There's still a chance that, obviously, the governor could appeal or a judge at a higher court could issue a stay," Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, told WCBS 880 on Friday afternoon. "It is a big ruling that we couldn't be happier about."

The decision came from the state's lowest trial court so there is plenty of room for appeal.

Stevenson called Christie a "good man," but said it's time he stop trying to block marriage equality in the state.

"It's gone on long enough, the message is clear. It's obvious that it's no longer a question of will same-sex couples be allowed to get married, it's when. And why anybody would want to continue to hold this back, I don't know," he told WCBS 880.

"We've been saying all along marriage equality in state of New Jersey not a matter of if matter of when. The court affirmed that we're a whole lot closer to when than we were before," said Mike Premo of New Jersey United for Marriage.

In Friday's ruling, the judge accepted the position of lawyers from gay rights groups that the state is blocking citizens from receiving federal benefits.

New Jersey's top court ruled in 2006 that gay couples had to have the same legal rights as married couples. Same-sex couples in New Jersey presently can enter into civil unions.

"Whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage is a debate that elicits strong responses from litigants, attorneys and the public," Jacobson wrote in her decision.

"Since the United States Supreme Court decision... invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, several federal agencies have acted to extend marital benefits to same-sex married couples. However, the majority of those agencies have not extended eligibility for those benefits to civil union couples. As a result, New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions are no longer entitled to all of the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples," Jacobsen wrote. "These couples are now denied befits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the state."

Jacobson wrote the lack of federal benefits "is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts."

"Today's decision reaffirms that all New Jerseyans, no matter who they love, deserve the right to marry. It is a tremendous victory for everyone who believes in equality," said State Sen. Barbara Buono, who is running against Christie for governor. "It is also a stark reminder that Gov. Christie stands on the wrong side of history. 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.

"The courts have spoken and the people have spoken. It is time for Chris Christie to stop blocking equal rights for all New Jerseyans."

As CBS 2's Jessica Schneider reported, many ecstatic gay couples were already planning their nuptials Friday afternoon.

"We will get married legally the second we can, whether it's Oct. 21 or whether we have to wait for Supreme Court of New Jersey to allow ... say yes we are able to marry," South Brunswick resident Louise Walpin told Schneider. "Twenty-four years ago we couldn't imagine this was possible."

Marcia Shapiro proposed to Walpin just hours after the ruling.

The ruling drew quick reaction from New Jersey residents.

"I think it's a great idea because equality has been denied for way too long," one woman said.

"God said man and woman, not woman and woman. No," another resident said.

N.J. Judge: Same-Sex Couples Must Be Allowed To Marry

"We have been saying it for months and it stands true today: through litigation or legislation, we will win the dignity of marriage this year," Stevenson said in a statement. "We just won the first round through litigation and we will continue to fight until we guarantee marriage for all New Jersey couples."

"Ruling the so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act' unconstitutional has clearly demonstrated that civil unions are inferior to marriage, and that rule is being applied in the state of New Jersey," said Omar Sharif Jr., spokesperson for GLAAD. "A majority of New Jersey residents, just like a majority of people nationwide, want marriage equality and today's ruling by Judge Jacobson can now allow love and commitment to win in New Jersey."

But some people around the state don't agree.

"Letting the decision stand by a New Jersey judge puts religious freedom at risk. Will clergy be directed now to perform same-sex marriage even though its against their religious beliefs? That is now happening in other states," said John Tomicki, president of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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