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New Jersey lawmakers call on state court to uphold gay marriage

By Dave Warner

TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - Leaders of the Democratic-controlled New Jersey State Senate on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to uphold a ruling by a lower state court late last week allowing same sex marriage.

"We're out of the dark ages now," Senate President Steve Sweeney told a press conference in the state capitol. "Let people marry."

"It's illegal," he said. "Let the Supreme Court take it up right now."

A state Superior Court judge on Friday issued a ruling that would allow same-sex in New Jersey beginning October 21, a move that would make the northeast state the 14th in nation to allow gay marriages, which are also legal in the District of Columbia.

Sweeney noted that a June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down a key part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as between a man and a woman had the effect of making New Jersey law banning same-sex marriage illegal.

In its ruling, the court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, which limited the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman for the purposes of federal benefits, as a violation of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, same-sex marriage supporters have been challenging state laws across the nation that similarly limit marriage to heterosexual couples.

Earlier this month a Pennsylvania judge ordered a county clerk in that state to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a practice the clerk had begun after the DOMA decision in June. The clerk has vowed to appeal that ruling.

Pennsylvania's attorney general has refused to defend the state against a lawsuit brought in July by the American Civil Liberties Union charging that a state law that similarly forbids gay marriage would fall afoul of the Supreme Court's decision.

Shortly after Friday's ruling, Republican Governor Chris Christie, speaking through a spokesman, said the state Supreme Court should make the constitutional determination on gay marriage.

Sweeney and the majority Democrats in the state assembly are battling on two fronts -- in the courts, and in an effort to over-ride Christie's earlier veto of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage.

Sweeney would need 27 of the 40 state senators to over-ride the veto in the senate, and assembly leaders would need 54 of the 80 members of that chamber.

Sweeney said he would move for a vote in the senate as soon as he knows he has the votes.

Senate majority leader Loretta Weinberg, asked in the press conference why no Republican leaders had spoken out on the issue, said, "They're smart enough to be embarrassed by what they have done."

Jeremy Rosen, a spokesman for the senate Republicans, put it another way: "I don't think we have anything to say about this now that it is in the courts."

(Editing by Scott Malone and Diane Craft)

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