The suit, Garden State Equality v. Dow, was filed two years ago and involves six same-sex couples and their children.
The Supreme Court decision June 26 blocked a California ban on same-sex marriage and opened the opportunity for married same-sex couples to receive federal benefits.
Lawrence S. Lustberg, representing Garden State Equality, the state's largest gay rights group, argued Thursday that the newly afforded federal benefits are still denied to civil union couples in New Jersey.
"With DOMA [the federal Defense of Marriage Act] out of the way, the only thing that prevents same-sex couples from getting the same benefits as different-sex couples is the fact that they are not permitted to wed," Lustberg argued.
The attorney for the state said the plaintiffs had "the wrong defendant." They should take up issues of inequality with the federal government, since New Jersey treats civil unions and marriages equally, Assistant Attorney General Kevin Jesperson said.
"There is no state constitutional remedy to cure the conduct of a federal entity," Jesperson said. A federal refusal to extend benefits to civil union couples is not a state action, he said.
With the Supreme Court decision, U.S. v. Windsor, less than two months old, both sides debated whether now is the appropriate time to bring the gay marriage question to New Jersey courts. The legislature could override Gov. Christie's veto by the end of the year and agencies are still rolling out regulations for how to treat same-sex couples.
But Lustberg said many agencies, including the Department of Defense, have written policies following the Supreme Court ruling that extend benefits to married couples, gay or straight, but exclude couples in civil unions.
Couples should not have to wait to see how more than 1,000 federal benefits are administered, he said. "That would adopt the state's position that what we ought to do is wait for the deprivation to occur."
Jacobson, who asked numerous questions of attorneys on both sides, said she would accept supplemental materials by Aug. 28 and would not hand down a decision earlier than September.
If she denies the motion, the case can still proceed to trial. Approval of the motion would likely send the case to the Appellate Division or Supreme Court.
Outside the courthouse, Diane Davis and her partner, Joan Caputo, said they were optimistic.
"It seems so obvious that it's the state's obligation to rectify the situation if their laws are denying federal benefits," said Caputo, of Ocean Grove.
The couple said they have been together for 25 years. While they are not part of the lawsuit, they say they've experienced inequities. Caputo's health coverage under Davis' insurance is counted as income because the federal government does not recognize Caputo as a spouse.
"It didn't change with DOMA, and it won't until we can marry," Caputo said.
The Kilian-Meneghin family of Collingswood is one of the six represented in the suit.
Cindy Meneghin criticized the state as going to great lengths to keep civil unions in place and then calling the partnership title "little more than a label" in arguments Thursday.
"They can't have it both ways and say it's just semantics," Meneghin said. "It's a word that means a great deal."
Contact Julia Terruso at 856-779-3876, @juliaterruso or firstname.lastname@example.org