Gay couples who won a New Jersey state court ruling that they have the right to marry say they would be irreparably harmed if a stay is imposed pending a Supreme Court appeal.
In papers filed Tuesday, the plaintiffs say the state’s motion for a stay of the Oct. 21 implementation date would affect the couples’ “fundamental personal, familial and financial security.”
Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson granted summary judgment on Sept. 27 in Garden State Equality v. Dow to gay-rights organization Garden State Equality, six same-sex couples and their children.
Jacobson found that the state was obligated to allow same-sex marriage in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor. It said legally married same-sex couples were entitled to the same federal benefits granted to other married couples.
She denied the state’s motion for a stay on Oct. 10, and it appealed.
The next day, the Supreme Court took direct certification and exercised jurisdiction over the stay issue.
The state contended that a stay was in the public interest because of the gravity of “whether to retain the millennia-old definition of marriage.”
But the plaintiffs argued that the public interest argument should be considered with other factors such as whether such relief is necessary to prevent irreparable harm, whether the underlying claim is settled and whether a balancing of the relative hardships to the parties favor granting an injunction.
The plaintiffs’ brief, filed by Lawrence Lustberg of Gibbons in Newark and Hayley Gorenberg of Lambda Legal in New York, disputes the state’s contention that it suffered irreparable harm in Jacobson’s ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
The plaintiffs say the state’s argument fails because Jacobson’s ruling did not strike down or enjoin enforcement of any statutes.
Even if the ruling were interpreted to void a statute, they say, Jacobson correctly held that there can be no irreparable harm to a government when it is prevented from enforcing an unconstitutional statute. It is always in the public interest to protect constitutional liberties, she concluded.
The plaintiffs also dispute the state’s argument that it would suffer harm if same-sex couples were issued marriage licenses and then Jacobson’s ruling were overturned.
The state said those marriage licenses would be “virtually impossible to undo” but California’s experience shows that marriage can be extended to same-sex couples and then removed “without dire consequences to the state,” the plaintiffs say.
The unsettled nature of the state’s position in the case also argues against a stay, the plaintiffs contend.
The state makes no attempt to show that its request is based on well-settled law, the plaintiffs say.
If anything, the plaintiffs argue, in light of Windsor, they are the ones whose claims are settled.
The plaintiffs detailed types of harm same-sex couples would suffer if a stay is granted.
These include the inability of civil union partners to claim leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, denial of the right of federal employees to claim spousal health insurance coverage for a civil union partner, ineligibility for a spouse’s skilled nursing care under Medicare, inability of civil union couples to file a joint 2013 federal tax return, and inability of a civil union survivor to receive veterans’ or other death benefits.
The state argues that such injuries are “speculative” because Congress or federal agencies might change the law to extend federal marital benefits to civil union partners.
The plaintiffs say it “strains credulity to believe that federal legislation granting civil-unioned couples marital benefits will be enacted any time soon” given that Congress has recently had “immense, historic trouble coming to an agreement terms to keep the federal government operating or to pay our nation’s debt.”