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Jesse Bachir PictureJesse Bachir is a second year law student at Durham Law School. He blogs at Queer Human Rights.

On October 21st at 12:01am EST, dozens of couples across New Jersey prepared to exchange vows as equal marriage finally came to New Jersey. Later that same day, it was announced that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would drop his appeal against equal marriage to the New Jersey Supreme Court after a motion for a stay of execution of the lower court’s decision was denied. Following this, the Christie administration announced it would institute equal marriage as being the law New Jersey.

Civil Unions in New Jersey

This victory in New Jersey comes after more than a seven years of fighting for equal marriage rights. Back in 2006, the Supreme Court of New Jersey decided in Lewis v. Harris that, under the New Jersey State Constitution, same-sex couples were entitled to all the same legal rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples. However, the Supreme Court left it up to the legislature as to whether or not to grant marriage or a similar union granting to same legal rights and benefits to same-sex couples. The legislature chose the latter and created civil unions.

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Durham Law Student, Jesse Bachir, explores the legal position of same-sex marriage in the US.

Same-sex marriage has seen some very good progress lately, especially with the recent election. In fact, the election brought same-sex marriage to Maine, Maryland and Washington by referendum – the first time in US history that same-sex marriage has been legalised via popular vote. Minnesota voters also defeated a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage at the ballots during the election. All of this, along with openly gay, lesbian and transgender representatives being elected to national and state legislators, as well as President Obama being elected for a second term, made this past election a very exciting time for the LGBTQ community. However, there are still some major hurdles to overcome for same-sex marriage in the United States

Marriage in the US 101

Very briefly, it is important to note the distinction between state and federal powers in the United States before continuing with any discussions of same-sex marriage within the US. Marriage is a right reserved by the states – meaning that they have the power to legislate as to the definitions and requirements of marriage. If you want to get married, you must go to the state and follow their particular rules governing marriage.

Once you are married, you are conferred apposite rights and privileges by the state as well as the Federal Government. However, it is up to each individual state to determine who is married within their jurisdiction – meaning that in order to gain access to federal marriage rights, you must first have access to state marriage rights.

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