A state court judge said in a ruling Friday that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in New Jersey, and that the rights given to them under the state's civil unions law are not equal to federal benefits now granted to married gay couples.
Judge Mary Jacobson granted a summary judgment requested by Garden State Equality, which had claimed that the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of the federal Defense of Marriage Act meant that same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey were being denied equal protection.
"The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts," the judge said.
"Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution," she wrote.
The ruling does not mean that same-sex marriages will begin immediately in New Jersey. The state has until Oct. 21 to either appeal or start the process to allow gay marriages.
The Christie administration said it would appeal.
Lambda Legal, which argued the case for Garden State Equality, said in a statement that "this news is thrilling."
"We argued that limiting lesbians and gay men to civil union is unfair and unconstitutional, and now the court has agreed,"
Cindy Meneghin, who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit along with her high school sweetheart, Maureen Kilian, said "today, with this ruling, the full benefits of that historic Supreme Court decision are within our reach, and we couldn't be happier."
At a rally Friday night, after 39 years of waiting, she finally got to pop the question.
"Maureen, will you finally marry me?" she said.
--Brian Thompson contributed to this story