By GEOFF MULVIHILL, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey judge was being asked to rule that the state allow gay marriage as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a ban on giving federal benefits to married same-sex couples.
Oral arguments were scheduled Thursday in a state court in Trenton on a request by six gay couples and several of their children for an immediate ruling, without their 2-year-old case going to trial.
They want a judgment legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey and recognizing as valid same-sex marriages performed in other states.
New Jersey now allows only civil unions for same-sex couples.
A ruling from the bench by Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson is possible, though it would be a rarity on such a weighty case.
Even if Jacobson agrees with the couples, it's not clear whether nuptials could happen immediately.
An appeal to a higher court is likely no matter what the ruling, and there could be a stay on any actions while that court sorts it out.
Thirteen states in the U.S. now recognize same-sex marriages, with New Jersey and Pennsylvania the only Northeastern states not among them.
The couples seeking the immediate court ruling sued the state in 2011. They argued that civil unions, which offer the legal protections but not the title of marriage, violate a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that found gay couples should be treated the same by the state as married couples.
That case has been progressing toward a trial.
But the Supreme Court's June ruling led the couples to file a new motion this summer.
With the federal government granting benefits to married same-sex couples, the New Jersey plaintiffs now say that the case against the state is stronger and asked for a ruling without a full trial.
New Jersey, they argue, is the only thing standing between them and legal benefits such as being able to file taxes jointly and health insurance for the same-sex spouses of federal government employees.
Lawyers for the state government say it's too soon. Gay couples who are not recognized as married in their states will receive at least some federal protections, the state said in a court filing. The state also argues that the federal government – not the state – is to blame for any benefits or protections denied to couples in civil unions.
If the state wins this round in court, a trial is still expected on the question of the equality of civil unions.
New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill to recognize gay marriage last year, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it. Gay rights groups are pushing lawmakers to override the veto by January.