Less than a week remains until New Jersey begins issuing marriage licenses for same-gender couples, and it appears protests from Governor Chris Christie and anti-equality leaders will not stall progress. Many reports, including on Bondings 2.0, have focused on the Catholic identity of the governor and the state’s bishops as influences in this debate.
Now, NJ.com offers an interesting twist on how a lesser-known Catholic is shaping LGBT rights in New Jersey with a profile of Judge Mary Jacobson, who legalized same-sex marriage in her September 27th ruling. Her ruling is also a lesson for Catholics in public life about the relationship between faith and law.
The report begins noting that Jacobson is a practicing Catholic, raised in Bayonne, a highly religious city in New Jersey. She attended an all-girls Catholic high school and now sends her daughters to Catholic colleges. Though few of those interviewed would discuss Jacobson’s religious beliefs, she appears committed to the Catholic faith.
Yet, it was not Judge Jacobson’s personal beliefs that influenced her decision advancing marriage equality according to those interviewed, but objectivity before the law. NJ.com reports:
” ‘The only thing that would play into her decisions would be the law, the facts and the application of the facts to the law,’ said Kenneth Levy, a retired Superior Court judge in Essex County who has known Jacobson since their days in the state Attorney General’s Office.
” ‘Judges are human beings,’ Levy added. ‘But if you’re going to be a good judge, you have to divorce yourself from your personal biases and your personal religious beliefs to the extent that that’s possible. To me she’s one of the best judges in the state. Professional. Totally unbiased.’ “
This professionalism left pro-equality advocates uncertain after oral arguments because Jacobson grilled lawyers representing the same-gender couples who initiated a lawsuit seeking marriage rights. Jacobson ultimately argued that in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act in June, gay couples were denied equal benefits since only civil unions, not full marriage rights, were available.
Since then, the judge denied an attempt by Governor Christie to delay marriage licenses and the state’s Supreme Court will begin hearing an appeal in January, while also weighing whether to delay marriage rights past October 21st.
Judge Jacobson is reticent when it comes to public views, and whether or not she personally supports same-gender relationships as a Catholic remains unknown. However, her ruling provides an important reminder for Catholics in the public sphere. The judge seems to abide by the ideas of Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray, who stated: “it is not the function of a civil law to prescribe everything that is morally right and to forbid everything that is morally wrong” and “It is difficult to see how the state can forbid, as contrary to public morality, a practice that numerous religious leaders approve as morally right.”
The analogies are clear when it comes to marriage equality. Regardless of how the judge feels about same-gender marriages, she acknowledges the reality that US law demands equal protections under the law for all, and this clearly includes same-gender couples. She also realizes that some religious and moral traditions not only allow, but seek to marry gay couples in their traditions. As marriage equality spreads, Catholics in political and civil life will be asked to respond. We can only hope they act out of faith as justly as Judge Jacobson has.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry