New Jersey's decade-long battle over same-sex marriage is headed to the state's highest court.
The New Jersey Supreme Court will hear arguments in January about whether gay marriage should be legalized.
The court's Friday announcement means that a current case on gay marriage will bypass the usual appeal process. New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson found last month that a U.S. Supreme Court decision from June compelled the state to begin granting same-sex marriages licenses.
Jacobson ordered the state to begin issuing licenses Oct. 21 and on Thursday she reiterated that the Oct. 21 deadline should remain in effect.
"Indeed, there is no 'public interest' in depriving a class of New Jersey residents their constitutional rights while appellate review is pursued," Jacobson wrote in her decision.
But the state's attorney general wants the Oct. 21 deadline delayed, and the Supreme Court is expected to decide in the next two weeks whether to continue or delay licensing while the case proceeds.
Fast-tracking the case to the state high court was one of the few things that both sides in the case agree on. The state's attorney general had first proposed sending the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the "substantial constitutional issues of significant public importance" merits the five-judge panel's attention.
Lawyers for the advocate group Garden State Equality concurred, writing that "no one can doubt the public significance of this litigation."
"The question [of same-sex marriage]…should be decided sooner rather than later, given the significance of the issues raised."
New Jersey law allows civil unions but not marriage, and attorneys with Lambda Legal and Garden State Equality argued that the law prevented families from receiving federal benefits, violating their right to equal protection under the law.
The state of New Jersey, however, has contended that state law already grants equal rights to gay couples by allowing civil unions.
The case is also significant because of the state's prominent Republican governor – Chris Christie – whose outspoken personality has elevated his national profile, putting him on the list of potential presidential candidates in 2016.
Christie vetoed a bill last year that would have allowed same-sex marriage in the state and his office said he would appeal Jacobson's ruling.
In interviews, Christie has consistently opposed extending marriage to same-sex couples and said he prefers a ballot measure – not the courts – to decide whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry.
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