A New Jersey judge says the state must allow gay couples to marry and failing to do so would violate their constitutional rights.
Judge Mary C. Jacobson handed down her decision to a lawsuit claiming state civil unions did not afford same-sex couples the same rights as married ones on Friday afternoon.
In a 53-page decision, the judge said since the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages, New Jersey must as well.
Jacobson cited that the inability for same-sex couples to receive certain federal benefits "is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts."
Same-sex marriages are set to begin in the state on October 21. However, New Jersey Governor Chris Chrisite says his administration will appeal the ruling.
Chrisite, who opposes gay marriage, wanted to put the issue to a referendum and have the citizens decide. That measure was never realized, however.
"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," Gov. Chrisite's press secretary said in a statement. "Since the legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination."
The state currently offers gay couples the opportunity to enter into a civil union. Marriage equality advocates argued that a civil union did not extend the same benefits to gay couples as marriage.
Acting on a 2006 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that required the state offer gay couples the same rights as married couples, advocates filed suit in July on behalf of Garden State Equality, a LGBT organization, and six same-sex couples who wished to marry.
Judge Jacobson outlined several examples how, she said, same-sex couples were being discriminated against -- including the inability for those with civil unions to get federal tax breaks that married couples enjoy.
"This unequal treatment requires that New Jersey extend civil marriage to same-sex couples to satisfy the equal protection guarantees of the New Jersey Constitution as interpreted by the New Jersey Supreme Court," the ruling said.
In Collingswood, N.J., a Camden County town with a vibrant gay community, Kim Otto, a member of Garden State Equality whose son is gay, is celebrating the ruling.
"Words can't explain the jubilation I feel," she said. "I was able to call my son and say 'Darling you can come home and get married whenever you choose.'"
Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley says he's ready to start marrying gay couples as soon as its legally allowed, but is saddened by the governor's decision to fight the ruling.
"It's just delaying this further for folks and that's really disappointing," he said. "He's going to appeal and it'll just put things on hold and in limbo."
Jay Lassiter, also a member of Garden State Equality, says he welcomes Christie's appeal because advocates are "going to spank him with the constitution."
"Bring it on," he said. "We will win in the court. We will win in the Supreme Court, because we have the constitution on our side."
However, there are still a number of people who oppose the judge's decision.
"I'm a very conservative man, I'm a Catholic and for a multitude of reasons it's against my faith and it's what I'm against at the core," said Tom Ferri of Jackson Township, N.J.
Ferri, who was visiting Atlantic City, N.J., when the ruling was released, says the traditional interpretation of marriage should be the only interpretation.
"I think it's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," he said.
His sentiments were echoed by a woman named Carla from Quakertown, Pa., also visiting the shore.
"I'm personally not for it," she said. "I think the bible says a man and woman should be together."
The ruling now leaves Pennsylvania as the only state in the Northeast to not recognize same-sex marriage. Delaware began allowing gay couples to marry on July 1.