In an eagerly anticipated decision, a Mercer County judge, the Hon. Mary C. Jacobson, ruled that gay couples must be permitted to marry.  In  Garden State Equality v. Dow, Judge Jacobson, relying on the recent decision in United States v. Windsor which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, ruled that denying gay couples the right to marry denied them federal benefits that were available to heterosexual married couples.

Governor Christie has already vowed to appeal the decision which was issued on Friday, September 27th. In the meantime, gay marriages will have to begin in New Jersey on October 21, 2013.  It is unclear if this date will be delayed at this point as we are sure that the Attorney General will request a stay of the decision pending appeal.

If the decision is not stayed, this ruling will affect employer policies where benefits are provided related to an employee’s “spouse.”  This may include FMLA leave, bereavement leave policies, wellness plans, enrollment in non-ERISA benefits plans.  New Jersey employers should make sure that where benefits are given related to spouses, the definition of spouse includes same-sex spouses.